IRISH hopes soared as Padraig Harrington blazed into action at the Northern Trust Open with birdies on two of the first three holes at Riviera – but it turned out to be another false dawn for the beleaguered Dubliner.
Harrington, without a win in Europe or the US since 2008, slumped to a four-over-par 75 and, barring a miraculous recovery today, appears to be headed for his third missed cut in four tournaments.
Dustin Johnson played with a potent mix of power and guile to set the clubhouse lead on five-under, with a neat and tidy 66 in which he drove his ball up to 340-yards and more, but still steered clear of the torrid Kikuyu rough.
As he hit 16 greens in regulation, dropping his only shot out of a trap at the par-three fourth, Johnson looked a real threat. It would take a brave man to bet against him improving on two top-four finishes in his last four outings in LA.
Five players lay one shot behind in the clubhouse, including Robert Garrigus, Charley Hoffman, Scott Stallings, European Ryder Cup star Francesco Molinari and Harrington's Aussie playing companion, Matt Jones.
Ireland's three-time Major champion started brilliantly. After holing a 26-foot putt for birdie at the first, Harrington rolled in an impressive par-save from 14 feet at two before sinking a 10-footer for birdie at three.
There the magic stopped. He dropped a shot out of the right rough at four and then stumbled to successive bogeys through nine after untidy all-round play, including a missed five-foot putt for par at the latter.
Harrington carved his tee shot right into deep rough on his way to another slip-up at 12. This was followed by a three-putt bogey from distance at 13 and another from around 10 feet for a six at 17.
Incredibly, he then holed from 17 feet for an astonishing birdie at the last.
Elsewhere, Damien McGrane recovered smartly from a couple of bogeys after the turn to birdie four times in six holes down the stretch and keep alive his hopes of mounting a challenge in the African Open at East London with a first-round 67.
The scoring was hot on a sultry, windless day on South Africa's Indian Ocean shore, so McGrane's four-under-par effort left him tied 30th, five off the blistering pace set by Portugal's Ricardo Santos with a faultless 62.
Four players lay two behind Santos after impressive 64s, including Rhys Davies of Wales, England's Richard Bland, South African Garth Mulroy and Danish Q-School graduate Lucas Bjerregaard.
Michael Hoey was frustrated to land just three birdies in a bogey-free 68. Kevin Phelan, another to earn his card at Tour school last November, shared 59th after a 69, which featured a pitch-in eagle two at six.
David Higgins (70) and Gareth Maybin (71) have work to do today to make the weekend.
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