Nedbank Challenge: Fun in the Sun as Padraig Harrington shows his class
Padraig Harrington, who swaggered to three Major Championship victories in 13 months and then vanished, reappeared in all his pomp on the fairways at Sun City yesterday.
Harrington turned the clock back to the summer of 2008 during a first round of six-under par 66 which gave him a one-stroke lead over his Ryder Cup playing partner Ross Fisher at the Nedbank Challenge in South Africa.
Once he landed his first birdie on the eighth, Harrington started playing and putting with certainty and confidence, qualities which seemed to desert him over the past 27 months as he slipped out of the world's top-20.
The Nedbank is a $5m end-of-season opportunity for 12 of the world's more distinguished golfers to top up their wheelbarrows before Christmas.
Harrington hit the shot of the day on the final hole, a beautiful 140 yard wedge from the left rough which soared over trees and a vast expanse of water as it zeroed in on the pin.
The grandstands surrounding the green leapt to their feet as Harrington's ball landed and rolled just past the cup ... leaving a two-foot putt for his seventh birdie.
A memorable day had started on a rather subdued note. After hitting his opening teen shot into a deep fairway bunker, Harrington made a nice par, setting the tone for his first seven holes.
The Dubliner then produced a string of four successive birdies from eight through 11, hitting a series of raking putts which renewed Harrington's faith in his ability to read the greens.
Even the untimely intervention of an electrical storm failed to halt Harrington's momentum.
After landing a sweet birdie at 14, Harrington had just hit a splendid approach shot to 12 feet at 15 when the sirens called the players off the course. Two hours later, he returned and polished off the birdie putt with aplomb to claim the tournament lead.
The only blot came at the par four-and-a-half 17th, where Harrington blocked his tee shot right after a short, sharp chop with the driver.
After taking two to get down from 15 feet for bogey, the Dubliner showed resilience of old as he bounced back with that sweet birdie at the last.
Fisher, who pipped Harrington at August's Irish Open, looms large in his mirrors after a first round 67 in which the Englishman played a beguiling mixture of power and precision golf until he pull-hooked his tee shot at 17 on his way to a slipshod double-bogey six.
Lee Westwood also looked threatening as he rebounded from a dropped-shot at six to post five birdies in a flawless 12-hole run to the finish and a round of 68. The only other player to break 70 was Miguel Angel Jimenez on 69.
Harrington evaded the media and headed straight for the practice range in a bid to make the most of the fading light at Sun City.