Sport Golf

Sunday 17 December 2017

Padraig putts himself in Travelers reckoning

Sergio Garcia
Sergio Garcia

William S Callahan

IT raised eyebrows around the world of golf but Padraig Harrington's decision to take up the controversial belly putter is yielding good vibes for the Dubliner himself.

Harrington once again wielded his new long putter with confidence during yesterday's first round of the Travelers Championship, even holing one monster from more than 50 feet for birdie at 15 as he purred into contention in Cromwell, Connecticut, with a four-under-par 66.

Nowhere was the 41-year-old's renewed confidence more obvious yesterday than on 15, 16 and 17 as he birdied the three holes which famously run around the lake at TPC River Highlands.

Harrington appeared to be charmed as he followed up on that spectacular effort at 15 by sinking a 20-foot putt for his two on 16 and then polishing off a 13-footer at 17 to trail leader Charley Hoffman by five.

Hoffman, runner-up to Kevin Streelman here last year, had two eagles on his card as he got within one of Patrick Cantlay's course record with a career-best 61. He lay just one ahead of Hunter Mahan at the end of a glorious, low-scoring day with Bubba Watson one shot further back.

After a whirlwind of media and social engagements in New York following last Sunday's victory, Justin Rose was a little ragged from the off yesterday. He birdied the first but then made three bogeys in five holes.

Yet golf's newest Major Champion pulled himself around, even picking-up four birdies in a glittering five hole stretch on the back nine as he wrapped-up a 67 to tie fellow Englishman Lee Westwood on three-under.

They lie one behind Harrington who didn't suffer with the type of putting problems that have bedevilled him in recent seasons.

There were distinct echoes of his first-round 61 here last year as Harrington snaffled a five-footer at one and a six-footer at two for a brace of birdies.

Though he then made bogey at the par-three sixth after hitting his tee shot way left of the green, Harrington got back on the birdie trail at 10, where he drained a four-footer for a neat three.

He actually did well to make bogey six at 13 after hitting his tee shot way left on to the railway tracks... then showed his flourishing morale with that late hat-trick on the feature holes. Still, the Irishman won't allow himself get carried away by this impressive opening gambit. He fell out of contention last year with a 73 on the second day.

Hoffman, Mahan and Watson were among those who found the going on an idyllic morning at TPC River Highlands considerably easier than on the East Course at Merion, venue for last weekend's US Open.

Across 'The Pond' in Munich, Ernie Els, who tied fourth with Mahan at Merion, also shot the lights out in yesterday's first round of the BMW International Open.

A nine-under 63 left the South African one clear of Germany's Martin Kaymer, who won this event in 2008, Robert-Jan Derksen of Holland, England's Matthew Baldwin and Alex Noren of Sweden.

Relieved to be playing in good scoring conditions after the punishing gauntlet run by the field at Merion last week, Els said: "It's really nice, simply a pleasure, not to go through a torture chamber like we did at the US Open."

The highlight of a flawless round by Els came at the sixth. After hitting his tee shot into the right rough, he crashed a fairway metal 250 yards across the water to five feet and holed-out for eagle.

Scoring was so forgiving, four out of the five leading players went bogey-free – the solitary blot, a five at seven, was on Kaymer's card.

Waterville's David Higgins shot a flawless 67 to share 19th place on five-under with Peter Lawrie at Golfclub Eichenried. Shane Lowry was tied 50th after a 69, which also featured an eagle at six. Gareth Maybin lay outside the projected cut mark with an even-par 72.

l ALAN DUNBAR blasted back after a nightmare start to shatter the course record with a sensational 62 in the first round of the Scottish Hydro Challenge. Dunbar made bogey on his opening two holes, the 11th and 12th, at Macdonald Spey Valley GC, before embarking on a birdie blitz, landing 11 in all.

BMW International Open,

Live, Sky Sports 1, 10.30

The Travelers,

Live, Sky Sports 3, 8.0

Irish Independent

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