Sport Golf

Thursday 14 December 2017

Late birdies just reward for Harrington’s fighting spirit

Padraig Harrington plays a shot on the fourth hole during the first round of the HP Byron Nelson Championship in Irving, Texas. Photo: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
Padraig Harrington plays a shot on the fourth hole during the first round of the HP Byron Nelson Championship in Irving, Texas. Photo: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

William S Callahan

Padraig Harrington showed the pluck of the Irish with a fighting birdie-birdie finish for a first round 68 at the HP Byron Nelson Championship in Dallas.

It's only the third time on the PGA Tour this year, he's opened with a round in the sixties although, on a cautionary note, he still managed to miss the cut on both of those occasions.

Happy days appeared to be here again for Harrington as he sped to three-under on his first seven holes down the back nine, even holing from 11 yards off the green for a sweet three at 14.

Yet after hitting his tee shot at 17 some 30 yards left of the green, the Dubliner two putted from nine feet for bogey. He then three-putted for another at the first; holed from 22 feet for a two at the second and followed untidy bogeys at five and six with those fine closing birdies at eight and nine.

Peter Hanson, 37, a member of Europe's Ryder Cup-winning team at Medinah but hampered by back trouble since, heralded his return to fitness and form with a five-under 65 to take the clubhouse lead. The Swede led Aussie Marc Leishman, 30, and American David Duval, 42, by one.

In stark contrast to Harrington's roller-coaster ride down the opening nine at TPC Four Seasons, Hanson played it in a flawless five under and Duval birdied four of his final five holes down that stretch as he registered his lowest round in three-plus years on the PGA Tour.

Four days after his exhilarating but exhausting victory at The Players, Martin Kaymer thrust himself straight back into contention with an assured 67. What Harrington wouldn't give for a touch of the German's confidence and consistency.

Precious

For the first time in 12 years, Graeme McDowell skips the BMW PGA Championship next week. McDowell, who hasn't made the cut in three years at Wentworth, intends spending precious time at home with wife Kristin, who's expecting their first child in September.

Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley paused long enough in his helter-skelter schedule to equal the best score by an Irish player in yesterday's first round of the Open de Espana.

After leaving the Sky TV broadcast booth on Sunday evening at Sawgrass, the Dubliner invited Kaymer and caddie Craig Connolly to dine with him in a local restaurant … the German,$1.8m the richer, paid .

McGinley flew home to Sunningdale on Monday; travelled on Tuesday to Girona, where he fulfilled a couple of media commitments and put in some practice at PGA de Catalunya.

He then teamed-up with jilted Manchester United boss David Moyes in Wednesday's pro-am, so by the time he joined playing companions Rafael Cabrera-Bello and Tommy Fleetwood on the first tee yesterday, McGinley might have been tempted to heave a sigh of relief.

Except the venue for this year's Spanish Open is one of the most demanding on Tour … indeed, the Catalunya Government have just launched a campaign to host the 2022 Ryder Cup here.

McGinley, 47, was equal to this tough strategic challenge, exacting fair reward for a tidy day's work by holing from 20 feet for one of only 11 birdies at the treacherous 18th to seal a 72.

He shared 31st on even par with fellow Irishmen Shane Lowry and Simon Thornton, four behind leader Eddie Pepperwell, 23, of England.

Gareth Maybin and David Higgins shot 73, while Michael Hoey (74), Damien McGrane (75) and Kevin Phelan (76) have ground to make up today to get through the cut.

Cabrera-Bello, pre-tournament favourite Sergio Garcia and their fellow Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez, had the home fans cheering as they forced their way into the eight-strong chasing pack on three-under with impressive opening 69's.

Jimenez once again brilliantly defied his 50 years by posting one of only two bogey-free rounds yesterday!

Open de Espana,

Live, Sky Sports 4, 10.30

Byron Nelson Championship,

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