Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Eye of the Tiger on McIlroy and Harrignton

FARMINGDALE, NY - AUGUST 23: Rory McIlroy (R) of Northern Ireland and Tiger Woods look on from the tee box on the 11th hole during the First Round of The Barclays on the Black Course at Bethpage State Park August 23, 2012 in Farmingdale, New York. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Tiger Woods got the better of playing partner Rory McIlroy in the first round of The Barclays tournament in Farmingdale, but it was Padraig Harrington who stole the early headlines.

Harrington, searching for his first US Tour win since the 2008 USPGA Championship, recorded a superb seven-under-par 64 to take the early clubhouse lead by one stroke over American pair Nick Watney and Brian Harman.

Woods was four strokes back after a three-under-par round of 68, including four birdies and a sixth-hole bogey, while reigning USPGA champion McIlroy also bogeyed the sixth as he came in a further stroke back on two under.

In-form Spaniard Sergio Garcia was shaping up for another title challenge after ending his long drought at the Wyndham Championships last week, as he checked in at five under alongside England's Gary Christian.

England's Greg Owen and Luke Donald recorded solid rounds of three under while Lee Westwood was level with McIlroy on two under.

High-flying Harrington came up with a truly “extraordinary” response to his Spanish inquisition.

He ripped asunder the fabled back nine at Bethpage Black on his way to the phenomenal first-round.

There are still 54 holes to go in the first of this season's FedEx Cup play-offs, but the Dubliner's play offered a perfect riposte to the barbs hurled in his direction recently by Jose Maria Olazabal and the Ryder Cup captain's fawning acolyte Sergio Garcia.

A fortnight back at Kiawah, the European skipper pithily dismissed Harrington's prospects of playing any part in next month's Ryder Cup at Medinah, and Garcia leapt onto the bandwagon here in New York on Wednesday.

Looking forward to Monday, when Olazabal is scheduled to announce his two captain's picks for Medinah, Garcia said of Harrington: “I don't think he's a sure pick. He wouldn't be a sure pick for me.”

Garcia lay two strokes behind Harrington after opening with an impressive five-under-par 66 of his own.

Harrington has flattered in the first round on several occasions since achieving the most recent of his US or European Tour victories, at the PGA Championship in August 2008.

Yet the 40-year-old Dubliner has been playing too impressively all summer for yesterday's effort to be viewed as a flash in the pan.

Harrington's ball once again looked as if it was on a string from tee to green, only this time his short game and his putting seemed to click back into their old groove, especially when he went birdie hunting on the back nine.

One-under through the turn, Harrington embarked on one of his most spectacular scoring streaks in years as he posted six birdies in a run of seven holes from 11 to 17 as he completed the Black Course's daunting homeward nine in just 29 strokes.

Harrington stole the thunder of FedEx Cup leader Woods and his closest challenger McIlroy, playing together in The Barclays feature group.

They both started on 10 and McIlroy immediately took up where he had left off at Kiawah Island last Sunday week, picking up three birdies in his first six holes.

After rebounding from bogey out of a difficult lie in a front greenside bunker at 16 to hole a 10-foot putt for birdie at 17, the Ulsterman turned in three-under, two better than Tiger.

Though McIlroy continued hitting his tee shots spectacularly well on his way home, maybe a little mental fatigue showed as he bogeyed the par-three third and par-four sixth.

Yet McIlroy's splendid up-and-down birdie from a greenside bunker at seven helped him complete a satisfying day's work.

Sadly, Graeme McDowell made heavy weather of wet conditions at Bethpage as he shot 75.

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