Padraig Harrington’s hopes of clinching the final Masters berth are still alive after the three-time major champion fired an opening four-under-par 68 to take the clubhouse lead at the weather-delayed first round at the Valero Texas Open.
Just 15 players had gotten their rounds underway when thick fog descended on TPC San Antonio, causing play to be suspended for more than three hours, so it was close to midday when Harrington took to the course.
Starting on the tenth, a rather slow opening saw pars at the opening two followed by a bogey at the 12th, but he’d birdie the par-5 14th to get back to level par, then reeled off three birdies on the spin on 17, 18 and the first to get to -3. A sloppy three-putt on the par-5 second resulted in a bogey, but a great recovery shot from wide of the fourth fairway led to an on-point 16-foot birdie putt and a dialed-in wedge on the fifth left a three-footer that he’d dispatch to get to -4 and top of the leaderboard.
From here, he’d par his way home, but in typical Harrington fashion, it wouldn’t be straightforward. He’d need a sublime flop shot on the seventh to save par, an escape from the greenside bunker on the eighth, and he’d need to hole a six-footer on the last to remain in a tie with fellow veteran Matt Kuchar, and they’d be shortly joined by MJ Daffue as the afternoon wave were in the early stages.
“Look, tough conditions, which generally suit me,” Harrington said after his round. “And I kept my
head down, I never saw the leaderboard until I finished. I didn’t know I was leading and that’s what you’ve got to do on a tough day. You’ve got to hit sensible shots and sometimes the sensible shot isn’t trying to hit the middle of the fairway, it’s squeezing it up one side of it. Even if it goes in the rough, it’s fine.
“Got to really have your thinking hat on and I did a good job mentally today. I worked my way around the golf course, didn’t get myself in too many awkward situations and I got up and down quite a few times and I putted well. But a lot of the times I was in a — I suppose good things were happening to me as well, so that’s usually when good things are happening it gets a lot easier when you have to grind it out a bit.”
The 51-year old is due to be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame at Pinehurst in June and enjoyed an extremely successful rookie season on the Champions Tour circuit last year, and feels that the senior circuit successes have been instrumental in his return to form on the main tour.
“Look, it is fun,” he said, “I love playing the Champions Tour and it’s really helped my game no end. I’m out there thinking, oh, I think I’m playing better. So I come, I play three European Tour events this year, this is my third PGA TOUR event and I’m kind of going, well, I think I’m better, let’s go and see if I really am better out there with the kids.
“So yeah, it’s nice to show some form. I had a reasonable chance in the first one in the DP World at the start of the year to win. Yeah, it’s nice to come out shooting a good score today. It was a bit scrappy to get there, but to be leading at any stage is not a bad thing on the Tour. Maybe the guys in the afternoon are going to get a little bit better, but it’s a good start to the week.”
Kuchar, riding a wave that saw him advance to the round of 16 at the WGC Match play last week, was playing two groups ahead of Harrington and he’d also card six birdies and two bogeys to match Harrington’s 68, and Daffue would sign off with an eagle-three on the 18th to join the two veterans at -4. Justin Lower is on course and through nine holes is at 5-under par and in the overall lead of the tournament but has to come back Friday morning to complete his round.
Meanwhile, David Carey’s fairytale run looks to be coming to an end after the big-hitting Dubliner came through both the pre-qualifier and Monday qualifier to earn his place in the field. A disastrous start saw him play the first five in six-over and make the turn at +8.
Credit where it’s due, he’d play the final nine in two-under to sign for a six-over 78, and he’ll need to go very low in round two if he’s to earn himself a paycheck for his week’s work.
The late starters will return early on Friday morning to complete their opening rounds, and, barring further delays, it’s likely that Harrington and Carey will return Saturday morning with the best part of nine holes to finish in round two.
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