Sport Golf

Saturday 24 March 2018

Positive start for Harrington

Padraig Harrington lines up a putt on the 18th green. Photo: Getty Images
Padraig Harrington lines up a putt on the 18th green. Photo: Getty Images

Padraig Harrington, emerging from a winter when he made yet more changes to his golf game, had a dream start to his season today.

The 39-year-old three-time major winner, without a European Tour victory since the 2008 US PGA, set the pace at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship after a seven-under-par 65.

And that included the luck of the Irish on the long eighth - his 17th - when his chip for eagle hit the flag at speed and dropped in.

"It was a shock it went in at that pace," he admitted.

It took Harrington one in front of Swede Alexander Noren and two ahead of defending champion Martin Kaymer, while world number one Lee Westwood, who missed the cut in the event last year, opened his year with a 69.

Ian Poulter, however, crashed to a 75 and was down near the rear of a star-studded field containing all four current major champions.

Constantly making adjustments to his swing, Harrington also has a new putting routine for the new campaign. And just as important as the eagle was a closing 12-foot par putt after finding sand.

"The first putt of the day I was away with the fairies, but I made the most out of the round - another day that would have been 69," he said.

"One thing showed up in the States last year. I was about 156th in every putting category, so something needed to be done."

Harrington has never been one to leave any stone unturned in his quest to maximise his talent. His attention to detail has even included having the specific gravity of his urine measured on a regular basis to help compile a picture of his stress levels and dietary needs.

Kaymer, last season's leading money-winner on the circuit and needing a top-seven finish on Sunday to take the world number two spot off Tiger Woods, is seeking a third win in the event in four years.

His round included a shank into water from the edge of a bunker, but he had already recorded seven birdies before that lone bogey on the 439-yard third.

Westwood also found a lake during his round, a leaked drive costing him a stroke at the sixth, but was delighted overall.

"It's a course I battle with and it was nice to make that (15-foot) putt on the last - I felt I deserved to break 70," he commented, before confirming that he will not be playing the Players Championship in Florida in May because of US Tour restrictions placed on him as a non-member.

Masters champion Phil Mickelson, US Open winner Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy and new Ryder Cup captain Jose Maria Olazabal were among the later starters having to contend with a freshening wind.

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