Pádraig Harrington, delighted to be playing in Rio after golf’s reintroduction to the Olympics after an absence of 112 years, began his campaign for a medal with an opening one-under round of 70, and later described some of those who skipped the tournament as “sheep”.
Harrington is adamant the players who qualified but did not to travel will ultimately regret the decision.
“I think completely, yeah. There’s a few conscientious objectors who just don’t see why professional golf is in the Olympics. If that’s your opinion, that’s fine.
“I would have to say there was a lot of sheep in this decision. They kept just following each other out the door. It’s hard to believe. It’s a perfect time in the schedule. The four majors are over, what else is there to play for this year?
“I just don’t understand what anyone else thinks they’re playing for. There’s four majors and you’ve got the Olympics. There is no point in saving yourself for anything else.”
Harrington, who finished seven shots behind clubhouse leader Marcus Fraser, who carded nine birdies and a bogey in his 63, said “The atmosphere was great.
“There were little groups of people supporting their own country and I think it’s been a great start for golf.
“I was as nervous on the first tee as I was teeing off in my first major or playing at St Andrews or Augusta. I said to my playing partners when we finished — now we are Olympians and no-one can take that away from us.
“Most weeks there are 156 players and only one winner. This week there are 60 players and we are all winners.”
West Waterford’s Seamus Power also made a solid start, finishing just one shot behind Harrington after a level-par 71, that included back-to-back birdies on four and five.
Fraser needed four Australian players to withdraw from the Games to seal his place in the team, with world number one Jason Day, Adam Scott, Marc Leishman, and Matt Jones all opting out.
“I’m glad they decided not to come,” the 38-year-old said. “I really wanted to be here. This week is something I will look back on in later life as really special.
“My kids can say their dad is an Olympian and that was a big part of wanting to do it, for them. They will be waking up in the morning in a state of shock that their old man is leading the Olympics.”
Britain’s Justin Rose had a hole-in-one on the first day of competition.
Rose holed out from 191 yards on the fourth to augment a tremendously positive
Meanwhile, International Golf Federation president Peter Dawson hailed the dawn of a new era in golf.
Brazil’s Adilson da Silva struck the first shot since 1904 in front of a sparse crowd as golf’s troubled reintroduction to the Games officially began.
Concerns over the zika virus, security, and a packed schedule meant none of the world’s top four players are competing in Rio.
An IOC review next month may mean golf’s return to the Olympics does not last beyond Tokyo in 2020, but Dawson hopes that will not be the case. “It’s the end of a long journey, or the beginning of a new one,” he said shortly after Da Silva had split the fairway with his opening drive. “We’re off to a great start. I think Adilson said it all there — the relief on his face when he hit a good drive was a lot more than for a normal event. These guys are up for it, which is wonderful to see. I’m very excited.”
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