Struggle for Harrington

PADRAIG Harrington will seek reassurance from the manner of his 2008 US PGA Championship victory that his first victory since then is not already out of reach following a disappointing opening round at Whistling Straits.

Three-time major champion Harrington shot a three-over-par 75 at the links-style 7,507-yard, par-72 Straits course on the shores of Lake Michigan last night, leaving him seven shots behind early clubhouse leader Bubba Watson after the start of the final major of the year was delayed for three hours and 10 minutes.

At Oakland Hills near Detroit two years ago, Harrington had opened 71, 74 to stand six shots off the halfway lead, before compiling consecutive rounds of 66 to snatch famously snatch victory from European rival Sergio Garcia.

No victories have followed to date but, speaking ahead of the tournament, the Irishman had said he was happy with his game having recorded his fifth top-10 finish of the year in the United States at last week’s World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational in Ohio.

Dense fog in Wisconsin had hampered visibility and caused a further, six-minute delay before the midwestern sun burned the lakeshore mist off but the delay will mean Ireland’s four other participants – US Open champion Graeme McDowell, world number eight Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke and Shane Lowry – will most likely have to return early this morning to complete their first rounds. The quartet were not due to start their rounds in their repsective pairings until after 4pm local time with daylight set to end at 8pm.

There had been clear skies, though, when Harrington finally got his round under way at the Straits Course at 11:16am local time.

Playing with fellow former PGA champions Davis Love III and John Daly, wearing vivid orange diamond pattern trousers and an equally distinctive orange shirt, Harrington had been in scramble mode from the off.

At his opening hole, the short par-four 10th, his second shot from the fairway just cleared one of Straits course designer Pete Dye’s beloved pot bunkers guarding the front of the green. He sent in a little chip from the greenside rough that rolled past the hole and putted for par from inside a foot.

His first bogey of the day came next at the 618-yard 11th, the longest par-five on the course, Harrington sending his approach shot over the green. He chipped back to four feet but again rolled his ball past the hole with the par putt and dropped to one over as Daly took double bogey.

The breeze came into play for the first time as the players met Lake Michigan for the first time in their rounds at the 143-yard par three 12th, and Harrington overshot the green with his tee shot, chipping well again to five feet and this time sinking his par putt.

The Irishman saved par again from the rough at the next hole and grabbed a shot back at the 14th, his fifth of the day, as he sank a 12-foot birdie putt to get back to level par having strayed left off the tee.

Harrington was way left off the elevated tee at the 518-yard par-four 15th, finding more fescue grass on the wrong side of a spectator path. He initially cleared a path for his second shot that took dead aim at the hole but would have meant a long carry over spectator areas but then changed his mind and decided not gamble, opting to lay up on the way to par.

There came a missed birdie putt at the 16th and Harrington found trouble again when he sent his tee shot at the par-three 17th way left of the green and some 40 feet below the green, close to some lakeside rocks.

The Dubliner punched his ball out to the base of the cliff-like bank from where, with caddie Ronan Flood up on the green holding the pin flag high above his head as a sightline, he lobbed the ball up onto the fringe of the green. Double bogey was the best he could do from there, however, and Harrington took his medicine to fall to two over.

The trouble continued as the former champion found a pot bunker at the front of the 18th green on the way to bogey to make the turn at three over, as did 1991 champion Daly with 1997 winner Love III just a shot better off.

Harrington suffered another bogey at the par-four fourth but then began to claw some of those strokes back with two birdies in-a-row, at the 598-yard par-five fifth and the 355-yard sixth, the shortest par-four on the course to return to two over.

The demons returned at the long par-four, 507-yard eighth, when Harrington chalked up another bogey to return to three over before parring the last to bring down the curtain on a very long day at Whistling Straits.

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