Padraig Harrington fired a blemish-free six-under-par 66 to make a welcomed return to form at the D+D Real Czech Masters in Prague.
The three-time Major winner entered the tournament having relinquished his full PGA Tour playing privileges last week at the Wyndham but looked back to his old self back on European soil.
“It was a nice,” Harrington reflecting on his six birdies on a hot scoring day at Albatross Golf Resort. “There were a few areas where my playing partners used a different strategy, but I will have to consider changing that tomorrow. But in general, it was perfect conditions – no wind or hardly any wind anyway.”
“The golf course was in perfect condition so you are always going to see a lot of low scoring. I created enough chances and converted a few of them so I could have been a little lower but I am still reasonably pleased with six under”
“It was certainly an easy round. It could have been a little lower but it was an easy six under. It’s certainly one of my best rounds of the year. It always helps when you’ve got players in good form. You see putts going in. You see birdies being made. A rising tide lifts all ships, put it like that.”
Alongside Harrington, Thomas Pieters laid down an early marker as the Ryder Cup-chasing Belgian carded an eight-under-par opening round 64 to take a share of the lead, alongside two-time Major winner John Daly and two others.
It was a real statement of intent from the 26-year-old, playing alongside Ryder Cup Assistant Captain Harrington and the European Tour’s most recent champion Paul Waring – who both enjoyed strong starts of their own with a pair of 66s.
Pieters will surely be feeling a sense of deja vú after day one at Albatross Golf Resort. He opened with a 66 in 2015 on his way to winning this very event, while a runner-up finish here a year later – followed by a win the following week in Denmark – was enough to secure a wildcard selection from 2016 Ryder Cup Captain Darren Clarke. He will be hoping to repeat that feat over the next two weeks.
Pieters was joined at the top by American Daly, who has a runner-up finish to his name on the Staysure Tour in Europe this year, young Englishman Callum Tarren and Malaysian prospect Gavin Green.
“It was fun,” reflected Long John Daly. “I hit a lot of good shots today, made a few putts. It’s been one of those years where I’ve been hitting it really good, I’ve just been injured and having to pull out. I don’t feel great but I got around today and I just played solid golf and it’s great. It feels good.
“Every time you get a chance to hit something in there close it really makes you feel good. I had a lot of putts today that were short but any time you’re doing that and you’re making them you get a little confidence for the longer ones.
“Today there were so many pins that were perfect yardages for me. They were just comfortable shots all day long. Tomorrow maybe more half shots and more full shots but for me, it was just one of those days where the yardages into the greens were so perfect it made it a little easier. It was a very comfortable swinging round today and if I can do that every day, the injuries don’t tend to hurt as much.
“I love this place, it’s one of my favourite places. The golf is awesome but the city is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever been. I look forward to coming back here every year.”
Eddie Pepperell is also in with a shot of forcing is way onto Thomas Bjørn’s European team and he did his chances no harm with a six under 66 to move into a share of tenth alongside eight others including Harrington and his fellow Ryder Cup Assistant Captain Lee Westwood.
Further down the leaderboard, Gavin Moynihan fired an encouraging two-under-par 70 while fellow Dubliner, Paul McBride returned an even par 72 to start.