Sport Golf

Tuesday 16 January 2018

Harrington happy to grind out battling 69

Karl MacGinty

THE township is Humble but the tournament course at Redstone most certainly isn't.

It's typical Texas -- big, in-your-face and ready to challenge all-comers, including Ireland's Padraig Harrington, who was delighted yesterday to shoot 69 in the first round of the Shell Houston Open after having his golf game thoroughly examined.

Like Kevin Stadler, the early clubhouse leader on five-under after a splendid 67, Harrington bogeyed the 18th hole after bailing out with his tee shot into the right-hand fairway bunker.

One could tell by the many raked areas in that sprawling trap that Stadler and Harrington weren't the first to be intimidated by the sight of all that water running down the left of the ribbon-thin final fairway, and they certainly won't be the last this weekend.

There are many searching shots like that at Redstone, which helps establish this venue as near-ideal preparation for next week's US Masters.


The Dubliner put nine balls into the water at last year's Houston Open and it's a measure of just how far ahead he is with his swing in the run-up to this season's first Major that he never went remotely close to the wet stuff yesterday.

Yet after he'd consistently hit his ball left on the range this week, any hint of danger down that side persuaded Harrington to bail out right several times yesterday.

He did it twice at 18, off the tee and again with his 200-yards approach, which bounded into sand to the right of the green. His splash-out rolled nine feet past and Harrington was a tad too strong with the tricky, left-to-right putt.

The only other bogey on a card which also featured five birdies and a handful of other good opportunities came at 10, where Harrington's wedged approach landed in the left greenside trap.

"I was pulling all my shots on the range so that meant I was never very comfortable when there was trouble on the left. I was hitting a lot of nice shots but I was never confident, let's say. So I've to go and do a little work on that," he explained

"I'm very happy to shoot 69. I hit the ball a lot better than I expected. I just didn't feel great," added Harrington.

And that's why he's playing this week -- to sort out any minor glitches and then test his game on a demanding course and under the pressure of competition.

"Any tournament before a Major is good for me. It shows up where my head is at, what I'm thinking about. What my routines and scoring are like. What has to be worked on," said Harrington."While Redstone is not the same as Augusta, it's a reasonable warm-up. However, it's all about trying to win the Shell Houston Open at the moment.

"Once the tournament starts, you are trying to win that title. You don't ever want to give up the chance to win a tournament and that's what I'm focused on at the moment. Augusta will start whenever I'm out of contention this week."

Though Phil Mickelson was among those tied with the Dubliner on three-under after his first round, the Californian is playing with far less consistency. The most outrageous example of this came on the 557-yard eighth, his penultimate hole yesterday.

After hooking his drive into the water, Mickelson dropped out under penalty, hit a phenomenal hybrid 223 yards to the front of the green and holed the 53-foot putt for the most outrageous of the six birdies on his card.

"I'd gone the entire round without a penalty stroke. I was so excited -- there's so much water out here, I always seem to find it," said Mickelson. "I just aimed far enough left and pulled it into the water on the right. The hybrid was a really good shot but the putt was one of those fluke things."

Stadler led Vaughn Taylor, James Driscoll and Kevin Sutherland by one in the clubhouse, with Harrington and Mickelson one shot back in a tie with Adam Scott, among others, as the skies darkened and the wind rose in the afternoon.

Rory McIlroy's poor form continued in Humble, though he at least gave himself some hope of making the cut with birdies on two of the final five holes of his first round 74.

Defending champion Paul Casey withdrew from the tournament without hitting a ball yesterday after a slight shoulder muscle problem stiffened significantly overnight. However, he expects to be fit to tee it up at Augusta next week.

Shell Houston Open,

Live, Sky Sports 3, 9.0

Irish Independent

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