Irish Open: Harrington back on familiar ground

Pádraig Harrington will aim to crank up the aggression as he attacks today’s second round of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open after putting himself in position for his first European Tour win since the 2008 Open Championship.

The three-time major winner, back in tournament-winning shape after victories at the 2014 Indonesian Open and the PGA Tour’s Honda Classic in March, last tasted success on European soil nearly seven years ago at Royal Birkdale.

Yet, Harrington knows how to win tournaments and he will bid for the second Irish Open title of his career by trying to take out as many of his rivals as possible over the next two rounds at Royal County Down following an impressive four-under-par 67 on the opening day.

That leaves the Irishman in a share of the overnight lead with Germany’s Max Kieffer, who closed out a day of difficult conditions on the links in Newcastle with a 67 in the final group last evening.

The leaders start round two already 13 shots clear of world number one and tournament host Rory McIlroy, whose Irish Open hopes looked doomed as early as yesterday lunchtime when he bogeyed four holes in a row on the way to a nine-over 80 in the worst of the day’s wind and rain.

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That will have been music to Harrington’s ears as he looks to eliminate as many rivals as possible by setting out his stall right from his 7.50am tee time this morning.

“I’m just trying to keep going forward and forward and make sure that any of the guys over par, you know, try and keep them out of the tournament,” Harrington said.

“I’m not a person who looks at total scores for the week. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I do know when you get under par, if I can keep going under par, it takes a lot of people out of the tournament. So my goal will actually be, if anything, more aggressive for the next couple of days and try and get myself to a really substantial figure, you know, that really takes a lot of guys.

“There’s guys here that are two, three over par who are hoping that they can get back into the tournament. If I can move away, just put a lot of pressure on those guys; so my goal for tomorrow and the next day will be quite aggressive and try and get myself into a substantial lead.” Harrington, the 2007 champion at Adare Manor when his win provided the springboard to his first major championship victory at that summer’s Open in Carnoustie, will begin his second round on the 10th tee, giving him a great opportunity to repeat his stellar back-nine play of yesterday afternoon. The Dubliner had made the turn at level par after beginning with birdies at the first and sixth and bogeys at two and five and he said his approach had been “maybe a little bit too defensive”.

The back nine saw the aggressive style kick in that he will hope to reproduce today as Harrington attacked pins and rolled in the sort of putts that suggest his vintage form of those three major wins is showing signs of returning.

“Got myself on the back nine, ‘I’ve gotta take a few more shots on’, but ultimately I holed a few putts as well,” he said. “Hit a few nice shots in, yes, to reasonable distances, but you’ve got to hole those 15-footers, 10-footers, eight-footers, and that makes a round.

“I’m quite comfortable with my potential at the moment. I’m not saying it’s there every week but I really see some good things in my game. I know if they fall into position I can be right there.

“And the two times I’ve been in contention in the last six months I’ve won. So the beauty for me is I know I can do it and I’m just waiting for it to happen.” Kieffer had briefly held the lead at five under par after laying the foundations as he opened from the 10th tee and eagled the par-five 12th. Two bogeys followed but by the turn he was back to two under and further birdies at the first, third and sixth edged him in front, only to fall back into a share of the lead with Harrington after bogeying the par-four eighth and carding his 67.

The Irishman and German lie a shot clear of another former Irish Open champion, Denmark’s Soren Hansen, who won at Fota Island in 2002. The Dane is a stroke clear of compatriot and fellow Dane Soren Kjeldsen, Argentina’s Emiliano Grillo and England’s Danny Willett, currently lying second behind McIlroy on the Race To Dubai.

France’s Alexander Levy who was a medallist at last Monday’s US Open qualifier at Walton Heath when Harrington missed out on the year’s second major by a stroke, had got to four under after eight holes having started with an eagle at the par-five first and birdies at the sixth and eighth but he would finish on one under par alongside a group including English trio Luke Donald, Chris Wood and Matt Ford, with America’s Players champion Rickie Fowler in a larger group on level par.

Things did not go according to plan for defending champion Mikko Ilonen, the Finn who triumphed in the parkland sunshine at Fota Island 11 months ago. Teeing up alongside Harrington and world number seven Sergio Garcia he opened with a four-over 75, the same score as his Spanish playing partner.

Yet the satisfaction levels were higher a little further up the leaderboard as morning starter Graeme McDowell declared himself happy to still be in the hunt with a four-birdie, one-over 72 after 18 of the 72 holes.

“I didn’t realise this is a par-71 golf course, so I think anything around par, one, two over par is a really good score today,” the 2010 US Open champion said.

“It leaves a sour taste, the three bogeys coming in (on holes 7, 8 and 9), but I was pretty comfortable with what I was doing out there and happy enough, and I’ve just got to keep patient and keep doing it.”

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