It seems as if Pádraig Harrington may have offended the golfing gods. Not so much for the magnificent 63 he shot here in Lahinch on the opening day of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, so much as the unrestrained satisfaction he took from it all.
“Easy,” was one word offered up. The phrase “stroll in the park,” escaped his lips too. Enjoyable though it was to watch the Ryder Cup captain shoot that seven-under and bask in the unexpected glory of a round that left him overnight leader, it carried with it the scent of loose talk.
Payback was swift. And brutal.
Gone was the blazing heat and blue skies of Thursday. In its place came the gloom and, for Harrington, something uncomfortably close to doom. The wet and the wind weren’t his only battles. There were his own demons — borne of his unexpectedly lofty position — and a misfiring short game to boot.
Cue a hugely disappointing 73.
The suspicion that the game’s deities were seeking retribution only deepened on the 18th, a hole he actually birdied.
Harrington had remarked on Thursday about how he has worked far harder posting 73s than that wonderful 63 and the former was exactly what he recorded when an eagle putt slipped by the cup.
The significance of the number did not escape him.
“I did realise that but I thought I was going to hole the eagle putt on the last,” he said. “I was sure it was gone in, which would have given me a 72 and all would have been right in the camp at that stage. It’s the nature of the game. Anybody leading going out there, they get a little tentative.
“Then on a tough day it makes it a little bit harder and you question different shot selections when it is this tough.
It could have been worse.
Look back 12 months and the Dubliner fell on the wrong side of the Irish Open cut after a double bogey on the last which amounted to ten more shots than the 68 with which he had opened in Ballyliffin. Another free weekend wasn’t out of the question here again after he went out in four-over only to mitigate some of the damage by coming in one-under par.
The problems had stacked up early and often with a poor chip from just off the back of the first green leaving him with a longer-than-needed par putt which refused to drop. The black marks at three, five and seven were all caused by three putts and a first birdie at 13 was paid back promptly on the 14th.
Harrington had celebrated his fine first round with a ‘99’ but the priority yesterday afternoon was to find a suitable patch of land to work on his short game.
“A 73 does not deserve a 99,” he half-joked. “I probably will hit some chips. I will definitely practise my chipping a bit. Hard to recreate the chips. I haven’t found a spot yet that gives me an interest in chipping here so that is a bit difficult.”
He may not have been happy but he knows this is where his game is at. Harrington spoke on Wednesday about the difficult year he has experienced on the back of a wrist injury suffered at home in late 2018 and his belief that his golf should be in much better shape come The Open later this month than here and now.
It was a point he returned to as the weekend loomed and he contemplated this abrupt change in fortunes, but if there was any positive to take from the downturn it was his refusal to buckle.
He dug in and went so far as to give himself ten out of ten for effort.
He knows only too well that some days just won’t bend to your bidding.
“Golf is a strange game. Myself and Ian Poulter were in the bunker on 11 and my ball was cupped down in the sand. Not a chance of me getting the ball anywhere close and Ian’s is sitting up nicely and he has a great chance.
“It’s amazing. I got all the breaks yesterday and I wasn’t getting them today.
“That’s the nature of this game. I hit some bad shots today and I was putting up and over slopes whereas yesterday if I hit the same shot I was just on the right side of the slope putting up the slope for an easy two-putt. With golf you just have to play your way through and not make a big deal about any one-hole situation.”
This was a round that has made any title ambitions “awkward” but it isn’t in his nature to warm to the notion of an ‘encouraging’ finish.
He still has a chance here this weekend – if the gods have been sated for Thursday’s impertinence, that is.