Padraig Harrington played to his strengths to lead the Irish challenge and sit just one off the lead on the opening day of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Ballyliffin.
The former Irish Open winner brilliantly chipped-in for an eagle and grabbed four birdies in a four-under par 68 one shot behind Kiwi Ryan Fox.
After three official practice rounds under near cloudless skies, Harington and the early morning starters in the Euro 6.011m event were greeted with light rain and cooler conditions in Ballyliffin on Thursday.
Fortunately, the rain didn’t last and for the 46-year old Dubliner to emerge smiling and clearly enjoying the form of the game he’s won two of his three majors.
Harrington ended the day sharing second place with the England foursome of Masters champ, Danny Willett, Lee Westwood, Robert Rock and Ashley Chesters along with Frenchman Adrien Saddier.
“The golf course definitely plays into my strengths,” said Harrington.
“I think a lot of times, a lot of tournaments I play now, you know, would be the opposite. The whole field plays it a certain way and you know, maybe the most orthodox player tends to have an advantage, which I suppose is right but when it comes to links golf that’s not the case.
“There’s so many ways to play it, play a hole.”
It is not lost on closer observers that Harrington has done well on Pat Ruddy designed courses including capturing three Irish PGA Championships in succession from 2007 and 2009 on the Ruddy designed European Club course at Brittas Bay.
Harrington played superbly all the shots you expect to play on a links course chipping-in from in light rough at the par-5 17th or the eighth hole of his round for an eagle ‘3’.
He played a great iron shot into his 13th hole, the par-5 fourth on the card, and easily two-putted for birdie and the first of his three birdies in the next four holes.
Harrington’s birdie at the par-3 7th or the 16th hole of his round was just pure class in picking the right spot on the putting surface and rolling in his putt for a ‘2’.
“It’s a really nice, traditional golf course. It’s a fine test. It’s very narrow; I’ll say that, which is I suppose the modern way of doing it,” he added.
“It will be a lot narrower than Carnoustie or any of the Open venues we go to. That’s interesting, but the rest of it, it’s really just a traditional links and sits there nicely on land and ebbs and flows, lots of doglegs. You’ve got to be really thinking as you go around.
Then in real Harrington-like revelation the triple Major winner spoke of what was going through but also was also leaving his mind.
“Well, I planned to go with a swing thought and I stuck with it,” he said.
“Even though it started well and in the middle of the round it went away, but I stuck with it. You know, if you’re going to go with something, you’ve got to stick with it.”
“It doesn’t matter whether it’s good or bad, you’ve got to stick with it. Chopping and changing is the worst thing.”
Fellow Irish Open winner, Rory McIlroy was next best with a 70 and one fewer than Graeme McDowell who produced a real see-sawing first nine holes and with each time he managed a birdie, G Mac dropped a shot.
McDowell finally found an upward ride with three birdies in his closing six holes.
“It was one of those days that could have got away, and was happy to sort of keep it under control and post something sort of half-decent,” he said.
“I really felt building up to today that the scoring was going to be really low, but you know, as they start to tuck these pins away, this course is firm, and I can start to see the difficulty level.”
Shane Lowry, Simon Thornton and Ruaidhri McGee are next best sharing 44th place at level par.
Other Irish scores –
73 – Cormac Sharvin, Paul Dunne, Gavin Moynihan, Paul McGinley, Colm Moriarty
75- Darren Clarke
76 – Cian McNamara
79 – Niel O’Brianin