Wednesday 26 July 2017

Harrington hits top gear

William S Callahan

SEVEN birdies in his sizzling first- round 64 at The Travelers Championship yesterday signalled a sudden return to hot form for Padraig Harrington, bidding this weekend for an unprecedented fourth successive tournament victory by European players on the US PGA Tour.

Though "delighted" by Graeme McDowell's success at the US Open last Sunday, Harrington was "disappointed" with his own performance after finishing tied 22nd at Pebble Beach.

The Dubliner admitted this week he "lost confidence" with his driver and three-wood at the US Open, struggled for focus and described his wedge play as "terrible".

exhausting

The US Open is mentally and physically exhausting and Harrington had to cross three time zones on his way from California to Connecticut.

"You realise on Sunday night at the US Open how tired you are and how much effort you've had to put in for seven days, because the grinding starts on the Monday," he said.

Yet all those issues simply evaporated as the 38-year-old stormed into a share of the early clubhouse lead on six-under with Australian Michael Goggin, who didn't have a bogey on his card yesterday, and Korea's Charlie Wi.

Those who believe in biorhythms will be interested to learn that Harrington traditionally clicks into top gear immediately after the US Open, picking up his first PGA Tour victory in The Barclays Open in Westchester this week five years ago. He certainly hit the ground running yesterday, completing a hat-trick of birdies on his first three holes -- the 10th, 11th and 12th -- at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Connecticut.

"It's a change of pace from last week but now I'm leading the tournament, I'm back in the old grind again," said Harrington with a smile. "Obviously, I got off to a very quick start and I kind of was trying to push hard after that. When things are going for you, you might as well run with."

Not for the first time, the hottest club in the Irishman's bag yesterday was his putter. After trials and tribulations on Pebble's woefully unpredictable poa greens last week, Harrington revelled on his return to pristine Bentgrass surfaces by sinking a series of booming putts.

"The greens are purer, they're receptive and you really do feel like you can make some birdies," he said. "Hit it close and you're confident you can get some putts in a row. You're not wary of leaving yourself two- or three-footers."

Harrington sank one remarkable effort from all of 57 feet for the final birdie of his round at the par-three fifth, his 14th hole, while a couple of 30-footers homed in on their target like acoustic torpedoes at 11 and 16.

"It's always nice to hole a few putts," said Harrington, who has not won on Tour since clinching his third Major title, the US PGA, at Oakland Hills in 2008.

His ball-striking was precise and an assured Harrington found 11 of 14 fairways off the tee and hit 15 of 18 greens in regulation.

The Irishman had just one bogey as he set out confidently to emulate the recent victories of Justin Rose (Memorial), Lee Westwood (Memphis) and McDowell. It came after he missed the fairway at 14 and hit his approach from the rough into a greenside bunker.

This week will be Harrington's final 72-hole event before the British Open at St Andrews in 20 days' time. Following his defence of the JP McManus International Pro-Am title at Adare Manor next Monday and Tuesday week, Harrington will spend a couple days working at home before heading for the Old Course for practice the following weekend.

Harrington, Goggin and Wi led US Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin, big-hitting Bubba Watson, former British Open champion Ben Curtis and Kevin Sutherland by one in the clubhouse as a thunderstorm and heavy rain forced a suspension in play.

Travelers Championship,

Live, Sky Sports 3, 8.0pm

Irish Independent

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