Padraig Harrington rolls back the years to storm into second place at Valero Open
Pádraig Harrington got off to the perfect start in his bid for a win and a Masters spot when he opened with a four-under 68 to share the early clubhouse lead in the weather-affected Valero Texas Open.
Bidding for his first PGA Tour victory for eight years and the reward of a 17th appearance at Augusta National next week, the Dubliner (51) shrugged off a three-and-a-half four fog delay and found his putting touch to share the clubhouse lead with Matt Kuchar, South Africa's MJ Daffue and Roberto Díaz at TPC San Antonio.
As Justin Lower got to five under through nine holes and qualifier David Carey bravely rallied from nine-over after eight holes to card a six-over 78, Harrington got confirmation his game was as good as it feels as he looks to compete with "the kids" in at least three regular Majors this season.
"Look, tough conditions, which generally suit me," Harrington said after making six birdies and just two bogeys in a round where he scrambled seven times out of eight for par. "And I kept my head down; I never saw the leaderboard until I finished. I didn't know I was leading, and that's what you've got to do on a tough day.
"You've got to hit sensible shots, and sometimes the sensible shot isn't trying to hit the middle of the fairway, it's squeezing it up one side of it. Even if it goes in the rough, it's fine. Got to really have your thinking hat on and I did a good job mentally today.
"I worked my way around the golf course, didn't get myself in too many awkward situations and I got up and down quite a few times and I putted well."
This is his ninth event in 11 weeks and his third on the PGA Tour, having played three on the DP World Tour in the Middle East, starting with a fourth-place finish in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
"I love playing the Champions Tour and it's really helped my game no end," said Harrington, who had 13 single putts and made 97 feet of putts in a 24-putt round. "I'm out there thinking, oh, I think I'm playing better. So I come, I play three European Tour events this year, this is my third PGA Tour event and I'm kind of going, well, I think I'm better, let's go and see if I really am better out there with the kids.
"So yeah, it's nice to show some form. I had a reasonable chance in the first one in the DP World at the start of the year to win. Yeah, it's nice to come out shooting a good score today.”
While he will be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame next year, Harrington has been reminded by his caddie that he does not need to be firing on all cylinders to win, even against the young guns.
"It's still a little bit unfamiliar territory, but I am sure nobody will want to see me up there with nine holes to go," said the three-time Major winner, who is not only hitting it further than he did in his prime, he also believes his wedge game has improved because of the PGA Tour Champions while he also feels he "turned the corner" with his putting a few years ago.
"Being a big fish in a small pond does build some confidence," he added.
As Harrington was hitting the top of the leaderboard, Monday qualifier Carey made a remarkable comeback from a nightmare start to open with a six-over 78.
The Dubliner (26) was nine-over after just seven holes after he bogeyed the 10th, double-bogeyed the 11th and then bogeyed the 12th, 13th and 14th before running up a triple bogey seven at the 17th after a wild drive.
Digging deep, he chipped in from over the green at the 18th to turn in eight-over 44, then rolled in a 23-footer at the first and an 11-footer at the fourth after a stellar 182-yard approach from a fairway bunker to get back to six-over.
He would three-putt the sixth from 40 feet, but he got that shot back at the par-five eighth.