Houston has a problem as Hoey shines in Portugal

SEVERE winds spoiled Pádraig Harrington’s early round efforts on day one of the Shell Houston Open in Texas last night.

Harrington had raced to two under par early in his round but then dropped two shots in quick succession on the Redstone Golf Club course before the wind forced officials to halt play near lunch.

Despite warm and sunny conditions the forecast was for the winds not to abate, so officials had little option but to call players together at 3pm to advise there would be no further play.

It meant more than half the field in the $5.7m (e4.23m) event, including the Irish pair of Darren Clarke and Rory McIlroy, did not get the chance to commence their first round.

The decision to halt play also came after heavy rain forced a two-and-a-half hour early morning stoppage.

Harrington commenced his round from the 10th and, after a poor drive, he managed to save par before picking up birdies at the second and third holes.

But by the time Harrington reached the par five 15th, the sixth hole of his round, the wind had increased appreciably.

Harrington had missed the fairway with his drive but then three-putted from 15 feet to head to the par three, 16th at one under par.

But it was at the 16th where he experienced the full effects of the wind standing over a short putt for par.

The conditions forced Harrington to back off his putt on three occasions before he watched in despair as his putt, aimed on the right lip of the hole, was pushed six inches right of the hole.

He walked off with a second straight bogey and will resume at level par with a birdie putt on the 17th, his eighth hole.

“The greens are very, very quick and they just can’t handle the wind,” said Harrington.

“My putt on 16 was a good example of how far the wind was moving the ball whilst I had a 15-footer at the hole before that the wind affected.”

England’s Lee Westwood birdied his opening two holes and also birdied his seventh before moving to four under par and two clear of the field when he rolled in a monster 45-foot birdie at his ninth hole.

Meanwhile, England’s Ross McGowan equalled the lowest score of his European Tour career yesterday to lead the Estoril Portuguese Open after the opening round — but Ireland’s Michael Hoey is hot on his tail.

Back at the Oitavos Dunes course where he was the half-way pacesetter in only his second Tour event two years ago, the 26-year-old produced a superb seven-under-par 64 in windy conditions.

It put him two ahead of Hoey and 11 in front of 55-year-old Sam Torrance, who could not recover from a triple-bogey eight on his first hole as he extended his record number of Tour events to 705.

Hoey, the former British amateur champion, is also seeking his maiden Tour win having led after 36 holes in Madeira only a fortnight ago.

“I picked up a bit of a cold there and didn’t really feel with it last week, so I went home and I feel strong again now,” he said. “Those decisions are almost more important than the ones you make with your game.”

The highlight of his round was an eagle three on the downwind 573-yard 16th, where he hit a drive and six-iron to 30 feet.

Asked where he would like to be in four or five years’ time, McGowan, English amateur champion in 2006, said: “Obviously I’d like to be number one in the world, but it is how you get there – not all of us are as gifted as Tiger (Woods).”

He is currently ranked 163 places behind Woods, a drop of nearly 80 places on February last year.

McGowan led the Johnnie Walker Championship in Perth by two with five to play but, while he bogeyed the 14th and 16th, 18-year-old New Zealand amateur Danny Lee birdied four of the last six to win by one and become the youngest ever champion on the circuit.

Yorkshireman Simon Dyson is battling with a neck problem but still managed a 67. “Every drive I went for I blocked about 40 yards right,” he said. “It’s not easing up at all and I’m going to see somebody next week.”

His score was matched by Scot Alastair Forsyth, who, along with ex-Ryder Cup star David Howell, was beaten in a play-off by Frenchman Gregory Bourdy last year, and by Spaniard Carlos Del Moral.

Howell is well down the field after a 73 but Bourdy birdied five of the last seven for a 69.


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