Padraig Harrington and Seamus Power keep Masters hopes alive after blistering start at Houston Open
Pádraig Harrington and Seamus Power came out firing in the last-chance saloon by firing five-under-par 67s to keep their Masters hopes alive in the Houston Open last night.
Like late starters Paul Dunne and Shane Lowry, they must win the tournament to qualify for the opening Major of the year at Augusta National next week.
And both men made the perfect start, especially Harrington, who hit the ball beautifully, missing only three greens as he made five birdies in an immaculate 67 to lie just two shots behind early leaders Lucas Glover and Kevin Tway.
The American duo opened with seven-under 65s in low-scoring conditions on a course softened by heavy overnight rain to lead by a stroke in the clubhouse from Rickie Fowler, Julian Suri and Australian veteran Rod Pampling.
Power was looking to follow up his career-best share of fifth alongside Dunne in the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship last Sunday with another good performance and got it as he birdied his last three holes to match Harrington on five-under par.
Harrington arrived in Houston after a week's practice in West Palm Beach with Lowry and former Shamrock Rovers footballer Stephen Grant.
"I know that my game is not far away," he said.
"It only takes something small to get the spark going and hopefully it can happen this week."
He desperately needs a positive result after missing the cut in five of the six events he’s played since he started his season at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines.
And he may get it in Texas where he got off the perfect start, hitting a wedge to five feet at the 10th before making the birdie putt to get into the red straight away.
He then hit another wedge close at the driveable 12th, knocking in a 10-footer there and while he failed to birdie the par-five 13th, he converted another 10-footer at the par-five 15th to get to three-under.
Last week’s playing practice in Florida appeared to pay off as Harrington missed just three fairways all day and made every putt inside 10 feet.
After turning in 33, he missed four long-range birdie putts at the start of his homeward nine before finally seeing a 25-footer disappear for his fourth birdie of the day at the 454-yard fifth.
The putter was working again at the sixth, where he flew the green from the left rough after a rare poor drive but made a 17-footer to save par.
He then chipped to 18 inches to tap in for his fifth birdie of the day at the par-five eighth and closed with a solid par-three at the ninth.
Like Harrington, Power also started on the back nine and followed a three-putt bogey at the 12th with a birdie at the par-three 14th before racing home in 31 for his 67.
The Munster man (31) made a 16-footer at the first, 13-footers at the fourth and seventh and a tap-in birdie at the par-five eighth before rattling in a 27-footer at the ninth.
It was also a good day for three-time Major winner Jordan Spieth as he seeks confidence ahead of the Masters.
With just two top-10s this year, Spieth is low on confidence and he was thrilled to finish with three birdies for a four-under 68 that left him tied with the likes of Keegan Bradley and Sweden’s Henrik Stenson.
“I put in a lot of work in the last few days and I am starting to get something out of it,” Spieth said.
“I thought that four-under felt like a six-under to me so that means good things are coming.”
Admitting the game has tested his patience recently, he said: “Absolutely. It’s been testing how I feel about myself more than anything – my self-confidence.
“I have been putting in a lot of good work on and off the course so it was an exciting day for me.
“I am talking like I shot eight or nine-under but I have got to take one step forward to start climbing up the hill again.”