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Irish Open: Catch me if you can is reborn Padraig Harrington's cry

By Peter Hutcheon

It should be a surprise to no-one that Padraig Harrington hit the front while many others are floundering in the conditions by the Mournes.

The Dubliner positively revels in tough conditions and he made the most of them to grab the first round lead of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Royal County Down.

His four under round of 67 was compiled when there weren't too many scores coming in below par.

Harrington hit the front with a run of five birdies in six holes on the back nine. His 32 on the back nine was the lowest of the day.

And he says that having shot a good score on the first day has given him options as he seeks to add this Irish Open title to the one he won at Adare Manor in 2007.

"I know from experience now that I'm in a position where there's many ways of competing in this tournament," he said,

"I've two options, play great from now on and try and get away from the field or play average and fight it out on Sunday afternoon.

"Shooting a good first day just gives me two ways of winning the tournament.

"If I keep my head on and play okay for the next three days I should have a chance on Sunday and obviously if I play well the next three days, other people are going to have to come and catch me."

Harrington began the day with a birdie four at the opening par five.

He dropped a shot at the next, but covered the difficult stretch of holes to the turn in level par.

He made the most of the back nine, with three birdies in a row from the 11th and then two more at the 15th and 16th.

"It'll be good to get out early tomorrow and try to get a good score on the board," he said.

"It's hard to make the cut when you play in the afternoon. You've got a much better chance when you get more rest."

Harrington said it took him the first nine holes to really get to grips with the way the Royal County Down course had been set up.

"There wasn't anywhere you hit the ball where you couldn't get up and down," he said.

"We play pin positions some times and the pin is three yards off the left and if you miss it left you can't get up and down from there, but there was none of that out there. There were shots to be played.

"After nine holes I thought to myself 'c'mon, we've got to hit a good shot, there's no need to be afraid'.

"And I think that everyone will be more committed as we go on in the tournament."

It could have been even better for Harrington as he threw away a great chance for an eighth birdie of the day on the 18th.

"It was very disappointing not to birdie the last. It was careless but I have to get that out of my head," he said.

Harrington's place at the top of the leaderboard was usurped by unheralded German Maximillian Kieffer who played his first 15 holes in five under.

An eagle at the par five 12th kick-started his round and although he gave those shots back with bogeys at 13 and 15, he then birdied both of the next two.

He picked up another birdie four at the first, birdied the third and moved clear of the field at five under with another birdie three on the sixth.

Shane Lowry found the going much more difficult as he came in with one over 72.

"It's not going to take many under par to win this tournament," he said.

"I definitely deserved to shoot level or under par the way that I played.

"I made a bad double on 15 and missed a short putt on 16 and I really feel I deserved that one on the last.

"I know that I can compete in these conditions. I was in control out there and I didn't hit that many bad shots.

"If I can just hole a few putts I'll be fine. I did struggle to read the greens today."

Michael Hoey has a secret weapon in his bag this week - his two iron.

It's not a club the pros usually carry, but it could be a very shrewd move by the Ulsterman, who used it to great effect in carding a level par opening round of 71.

"There are holes where you just don't want to be hitting a driver and the two iron is just perfect," he said.

"You still do have to use the driver some of the time, but the two iron is a really good club to have in the bag for a week like this."

Hoey is more than happy to let his fellow Ulstermen Darren Clarke, Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell hog the limelight while he prepares for the Irish Open in his own quiet way.

He's the kind of player who could do very well in a tournament played in windy conditions - and he also knows the course as well as any of them.

He has form in this kind of golf and can count the Dunhill Links championship among his five European Tour wins to date, but he wasn't talking up his chances of success come Sunday after just one good round.

"You can only lose it on day one and I haven't lost it," he said. "I really enjoyed it out there and I think that was my most enjoyable round of the year.

"I wasn't thinking about my score, just thinking about playing my shots and that's a good sign that things are going well."

Like so many others Hoey came to grief on the 145-yard par three seventh which is going to be a hole the entire field will want to get behind them if they are in contention on Sunday.

"It's a brutal hole," said Hoey.

Further Reading

Irish Open: Catch me if you can is reborn Padraig Harrington's cry 

Irish Open: Darren Clarke says course was great, he just made too many errors 

Irish Open: Tee-off times in the second round of the European Tour's Irish Open

Irish Open: World No 1 Rory McIlroy well below par as his homecoming turns into a nightmare

Irish Open: Pals are expecting Rory McIlory to roar back

Irish Open: Patience pays off but Rickie Fowler wanted more

  Irish Open: Graeme McDowell determined to tame the beast at Royal County Down

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