This may not be Pádraig Harrington’s last shot at glory but the triple major champion knows age is catching up with him and his blistering 63 at Lahinch yesterday was a sign he is not inclined to waste a minute of the time he has left in elite golf.
To sleep on an overnight lead at the age of 47, as Harrington did last night following his memorable start to this year’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, must have been special.
To do so on home soil in one’s national Open in front of an adoring crowd at an iconic links course? Well, it may have been the stuff to have given the Dubliner the sweetest of dreams during those slumbers.
That seven-under-par 63 at the scene of his 1995 Irish Amateur Close victory, certainly dismissed the annoyances he admitted had followed a run of poor recent form that has resulted in three straight missed cuts on the PGA Tour for Europe’s 2020 Ryder Cup captain.
“I think if you want to be beware the wounded beast, I’m wounded mentally, not physically,” Harrington said last night.
“As in, I think my poor play and poor performances have annoyed me enough that I have a nagging feeling that I’m running out of time to play golf, and I’d better go play.”
He then revealed his entire focus other than preparations for the showdown against the USA at Whistling Straits in 14 months was on peaking for this month’s links swing in Europe, starting in Lahinch and concluding in three weeks at Royal Portrush for the 148th Open Championship.
“This run, I’ve lived the whole year for this run. That was more the attitude.
“You know, I can’t afford to miss out and come back in three weeks’ time and say, ‘hey, yeah, it was a good three weeks, I’m getting ready for six weeks’ time’.
“No, these were important to me, and that’s what I’m talking about, the mindset. Just really focused on just these weeks and nothing more than that. A lot of times, I’m always thinking ahead of myself. This is not the case. I don’t get opportunities like this, and they are dwindling. Am I going to be competitive in three years’ time? Who knows? So I’d better do it now while I’m still capable.
“I’m just saying I can’t be pushing it out. I’ve got to go and play, and that’s very much my attitude these three weeks. Because it’s links golf and I know I have that natural advantage that, you know, I suppose sometimes, especially playing in the States, you’re playing on parkland golf courses.
You always feel like you’re on the edge of being competitive. Here, I know I have an advantage. So just get out of my own way and let it happen.
Harrington let it happen all right in a round of eight birdies and only one bogey, playing some of the trademark links golf that brought him the Claret Jug at Carnoustie and Birkdale in 2007 and ‘08 respectively.
No better example came at the par-five 18th when his approach found a greenside bunker and Harrington used great hands to engineer a splash out rescue shot to inside five feet for the birdie that delivered his best round in an Irish Open in 24 starts, eclipsing final rounds of 64 in both 2001 at Fota Island and 2010 at Killarney.
Maybe it’s an omen. After Harrington’s Irish Open victory, in 2007, also came in Munster, at Adare Manor.
Now ranked 291 in the world, he will start his second round this morning with a one-shot lead over the late-finishing and late-surging Zander Lombard of South Africa, who fired four birdies in his last five holes for a six-under 64.
Behind them is a bunched chasing pack led by six players on five under par: English duo Eddie Pepperell and Lee Slattery, Danish Ryder Cup hero Thorbjorn Olesen, Mike Lorenzo-Vera of France, Korean Hyowon Park and Australia’s Wade Ormsby all shooting opening 65s on a day when the seaside wind was at its most benign and the 16,228 crowd enjoyed blistering sunshine on what had become the Mild Atlantic Way.
It all contributed to a festival atmosphere and Harrington was not the only Irishman to tap into the feelgood factor on home turf.
Shane Lowry, world number 35 and the highest-ranked Irishman in the field with number three Rory McIlroy absent, lived up to his billing with a first-round, four-under-par 66.
While the 2009 champion felt he needed to work on his driver ahead of today’s second round, heading to the range after his round, he did admit to having a good time out on the course.
“It was one of my more enjoyable four or five hours on the course,” Lowry said.
“I played okay, I didn’t think I played great but I hit it in the right spots, I managed my way around the golf course today and that’s what I’m most happy about.”
Lowry’s 66 was matched by Co Down’s Cormac Sharvin and eight others, double major champion Martin Kaymer of Germany, Scotland’s Robert Macintyre, Malaysian Gavin Green, Mexico’s Abraham Ancer, and English quartet Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood, Oliver Wilson and Chris Paisley.
There are also some big beasts lurking at three under par, among them tournament favourite Jon Rahm, defending champion Russell Knox, Tommy Fleetwood and last year’s Scottish Open champion Brandon Stone.
Tramore’s Robin Dawson, in his first season as a professional and with former Home Internationals team-mate, Corkman Peter O’Keeffe on his bag, had threatened to join Lowry and Sharvin on four under or perhaps even better having reached that point after 11 holes.
Yet he slipped to one under before a birdie at the last returned a smile to the face and a 68 on the scorecard.