Harrington's defence off to a satisfying start in Portugal

Defending champ Padraig Harrington again had plenty of Irish encouragement in a flawless four-under 67 on day one of the Portugal Masters.

Image by Thos Caffrey – Golffile.ie  

 

Harrington returned to the Victoria course clearly with a spring in his step some 12 months after ending an eight-year European Tour winless drought on the sun-splashed Algarve.

The current World No. 158 looked refreshed after an ‘economy class’ share of 55th a week ago in the KLM Open.

Harrington started his round from the 10th and picked-up three birdies in four holes from the 14th to make the turn in three under par. A birdie at the 1st, his tenth was the last of the day however, as the steady Dubliner finished with eight straight pars.

And very much like a year ago, there was plenty of Irish accents lending support to the affable Harrington.

 

“I was looking for a good start and I managed to do that, and also without dropping a shot so it was a good first round,” said Harrington.

“So, this round helps now if I am in with chance on Sunday as it’s so much easier when you’re under pressure, and the focus is just that bit sharper.

“I also had great support again today from a lot of Irish people down here on holiday and great support also from the Portuguese fans. I’ve always come and felt very welcomed”.

 

The duo of Dutchman Joost Luiten and South African George Coetzee head the Portugal field with seven-under 64s.

Luiten bounced back brilliantly after missing the cut by a shot last week in his own KLM Open and an event he has won twice previously.

“It was a tough week for me last week to miss the cut by one but in this game, there is always next week and always a next shot,” he said.

“I just hit the ball lovely today and when you hit the fairways here you can be aggressive into the greens”.

Coetzee, coming off a share of third in Holland, got his round off to a flyer with six birdies in his opening eight holes, including four in succession from his third hole.

Shane Lowry, winner of the event in 2009 in his first success as a pro, ended with a smile on his face in birding the last hole in a two under par 69.

However, two-under was virtually par for the day with 87 players in the 144 Portugal field managing to get into the red.

Lowry recorded just three birdies and dropped a shot in his first European Tour event since sharing 20th place in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open.