Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 2 August 2014

Harrington back to his best

Padraig Harrington during a practice round at Firestone

At last, Padraig Harrington played like a Major champion once again at Firestone yesterday as he seized the lead with a stunning opening round of 64.

Harrington missed the cut in eight of the 16 stroke-play events he's played so far in a calamitous season as he grappled with a tricky swing change.

Yet the Dubliner proved in yesterday's first round at Firestone that he'd solved the perplexing riddle of his swing as he rediscovered the form and, more importantly, confidence which had helped him land three Major titles since 2007.

It's come not a minute too soon for Harrington, who defends his US PGA title at Hazeltine next week after surrendering the Claret Jug at Turnberry last month.

Starting on the 10th a Firestone, Harrington bisected the fairway with an arrow-straight tee shot, hit his approach to eight feet and drained the eight-foot birdie putt.

Further birdies were landed at the 667 yard 16th, where he holed-out from 11 feet; the par-four first and the 526-yard second, where the Irishman slammed his drive 332 yards up the fairway.

As he strutted to four-under, Harrington joined South African Tim Clark and Thai Prayed Marksaeng at the top of the leaderboard after they finished with sweet rounds of 66.

However, birdies at the par three seventh and another with a putt from off the green at eight (his 16th and 17th) put him into the lead on his own.

Darren Clarke led the five-man Irish contingent in the clubhouse after a one-over par 71 at the scene of his second World Golf Championship Victory in 2003.

Clarke's fellow Ulsterman, Graeme McDowell posted a 73 as he works intently this week on a swing change with coach Clive Tucker which he expect to get his driver into top gear for Hazeltine.

Rory McIlroy, rusty after a two-week break in the wake of The Open at Turnberry, shot a 75 as he tries to knock a few rough edges off his short game for Hazeltine.

"I don't think I was trying too hard today, I didn't get angry or anything," McIlroy admitted.

"But if you really want to do well and your game's not quite there, it's tough to take. I had it a little bit at The Open. I wanted to do so much better but I just couldn't because my game wasn't fully there.”

After six weeks in which he attention had been devoted to his wife Amy and mother Mary's battle with breast cancer, Phil Mickelson took 10 holes to get into his stride yesterday. After completing his outward half in three-over, however, the World No 2 battled back to level par on the front nine.

England's Paul Casey, one of the pre-tournament favourites, withdrew after six holes with a rib- cage injury which, he feared, "could take two to four weeks to heal properly".

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