There is never very much glory to be enjoyed at the outset of a major championship but after his first competitive round at Royal Birkdale since he lifted the Claret Jug in 2008, Pádraig Harrington had hoped for a better outcome than his opening 73.
Nine years on from that career-defining final-round five wood at the 17th from 249 yards to three feet, Ireland’s three-time major winner yesterday posted a birdie-free three over par score to let some of the air out of Harrington’s pre-tournament confidence.
It was a round that never ignited in conditions that were the toughest of the day on the Lancashire coast, a bogey at the par-four seventh and a double bogey at the 11th the only variations from a round of pars.
“It just really wasn’t my day, and I wasn’t taking chances,” Harrington, 45, said. “At the end, I hit a beautiful shot into 15, and I am thinking in the air I am going to be making eagle and I end up making par. And I didn’t birdie 17. That’s just the nature of the game. I played okay and didn’t score well.
“I kind of played as expected. I am probably a little disappointed in the early part of the round that I didn’t make more of it. I had three decent birdie chances, a couple of decent chances early on and if I had taken one or two of those, it would have created some momentum. Then I missed a short putt on the seventh for par, and it was tough enough after that I suppose.”
Harrington rued his lack of early birdies and was punished with the double bogey on the par-four 11th, three putting from the front of the green after hitting his tee shot into a ditch right of the fairway.
“I will be trying my hardest tomorrow, regardless. Whatever I think, I will be going out there trying and playing my game. The key is to get a bit of momentum in the round and there is certainly a good one in there. A good score. But we will wait and see what happens. it is not like you can go out there and force it either.”
Naturally, his play at the 17th was a focus given the shot he made there nine years earlier. Yesterday he took a four wood off the tee and found rough on the left.
“A great lob wedge out of it. I hit a beautiful pitch straight down the pin and thought it was stone dead. I went up, and it was 15 feet short, and I left the putt short. You know what, I am glad I played it the way I did in 2008. I wouldn’t swap it around.”
For someone who claims not to do sentiment, Harrington could not help but feel the warmth of the reception he was afforded by the galleries. On Tuesday night the Royal Birkdale Golf Club had honoured him with life membership in tribute to his 2008 victory here and the affection shown by attendees yesterday touched the Dubliner.
“I enjoyed it. I enjoyed walking down 17 and I enjoyed walking down 18. So yeah, there was a little bit of sentiment.”
His success here nine years ago, Harrington agreed, obviously still resonated with followers of the sport in this corner of north-west England.
“Absolutely. They can’t take it away from me.”
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