Padraig Harrington rolls back the years but Rory McIlroy disappointed as 32 putts undermine tee-to-green prowess
PádraIg Harrington made a mockery of his pre-tournament odds when he opened with a super 68 to move into contention for the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at a sun-kissed Ballyliffin.
On a day when anyone watching Rory McIlroy from tee to green (but not putting) would have bet the house on him shooting in the mid-60s rather than posting a frustrating 70, Harrington rolled back the years to go into today's second round just a shot behind New Zealander Ryan Fox after shooting four-under-par 67.
Locked in a seven-way tie for second with the likes of Lee Westwood and Danny Willett, the three-time Major winner had every reason to sound upbeat after thrilling the 13,716-strong home crowd with some vintage play.
"There's not often there's value in my game," Harrington said with a big grin when reminded about his pre-tournament odds of 66-1.
"The bookies in Ireland would make sure they cut you to a low price knowing that sentimentally people would back you.
"I was surprised. The bookies don't normally get it wrong, but to put me out there at 66-1 on a links golf course was strange on their part, at home in my home country.
"My performances always go up when it comes to a links course. Maybe that says I'm even worse than I thought!"
Harrington's game is never far away and while he struggled early in his round and was one-over after six holes, his round turned when he chipped in for an eagle at the par-five 17th, his eighth, then got a line-of-sight drop from heavy rough at the 18th and managed to save par.
"I needed momentum at that stage," he said of his chip-in eagle.
"I played well early on and 15, I played really badly and maybe things were starting to get away from me and just to chip in and get myself under-par, it's always nice."
When he pulled off a difficult sand save at the first, Harrington was well and truly moving and after making three birdies in four holes from the fourth - the pick of them a two after a wedge to six feet at the 170-yard seventh - he made another trademark par save at the eighth.
Trying to cut the corner of the dog-leg, he plugged his tee shot in the revetted face of a fairway bunker, advanced the ball to within 92 yards of the pin and got up and down for his four.
He knows there is still a long way to go before he can think of winning but his satisfaction contrasted with the frustration felt by McIlroy, who missed seven putts inside eight feet in a 70 that could have been a 66 or 67 with ease.
"It could have been a lot better," McIlroy conceded after a 32-putt round. "It's the best I hit the ball in a long time... I just struggled on the greens.
He added: "I'd love to be able to say I'm saving them for a couple weeks' time .What I saw out there today was really good and I just need to continue to do that and as I said just hole a few more putts.
"If I could improve as the week goes on, heading into Carnoustie in that aspect, I'd be really happy.
"I'm not walking away from this round satisfied but I'm very happy with one part of my game and not very happy with the other.
"I guess the positives outweigh the negatives at this point and hopefully, if I can just chip away at those negatives over the next few days, I'll be happy."
It was a frustrating day for Shane Lowry, who turned a potential 68 into a 72 when he three-putted the 15th, failed to birdie the par-five 17th and then did well to bogey the 18th from eight feet after flying the green from the deep rough on the right.
"I played four bad holes at the end there," Lowry said after a level-par round that leaves him tied for 44th with Ruaidhri McGee and Simon Thornton.
"I got a bit frustrated out there and let it get to me a little bit, but that was a nice putt on the last. I would have been very disappointed to shoot over par.
"The scoring's not hectic is it, so try and get out early in the morning and shoot a good score."
The Clara man had 34 putts in his round and planned to head to the practice putting green before heading home to reflect on his day.
"I struggled with them because I don't think they look as quick as they are and I just hit a lot of putts too hard," he said.
Paul Dunne was three-over-par with six to play but despite struggling from the tee, he managed to scramble for a one-over 73 that leaves him tied for 66th with Cormac Sharvin, Gavin Moynihan, Paul McGinley and Colm Moriarty, who closed with a double-bogey six at the ninth.
"Laziness," Dunne said of the double bogey at the second that erased his opening birdie.
"Hit it out of bounds with a two-iron with the rest of Donegal on the left. It was just a brain-dead moment so early in the round."
- Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, Live, RTÉ2/Sky Sports, 10.30, RTÉ1, 2.30
Harrington dreaming of second Irish Open win
Pádraig Harrington believes he will be a dangerous animal if he can remain patient and build on a super start to the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open.
The Dubliner (46) thrilled a 13,000-strong crowd at sun-scorched Ballyliffin and made a mockery of 66/1 odds with a super 68 that leaves him a shot behind New Zealander Ryan Fox on four-under-par.
While Rory McIlroy struggled on the greens but still shot a solid 70 to lurk just three off the pace, Harrington knows he has the links experience to win his second Irish Open title on his first trip to Donegal.
Harrington said: “I know if I just stay patient, hopefully I’ll manage it well enough to get myself into position with nine holes to go.
“I know I’d become a different animal in that situation, so that’s the goal – just to keep myself in position with nine holes to go and I can have a bit of fun.
“When I get there, I get the feeling back.”