Brian Keogh in California
Battling the physical stress of dozens of post-Open commitments during his three-week break from the game, Padraig Harrington clawed his way back into contention after a sloppy start to the Target World Challenge at Sherwood Country Club outside Los Angeles.
Playing alongside Vijay Singh, a player with whom he has maintained a frosty relationship following an incident in the 2001 Malaysian Open, the Dubliner had to holed a tricky five footer at the ninth just to remain on two over par.
But showing the kind of grit that helped him lift his first major title at Carnoustie last July, the Dubliner dug deep into his reserves to play the back nine in 33 and post a one under par 71 that left him four shots adrift of tournament host Tiger Woods and Swede Henrik Stenson, who still had holes remaining.
“I played better than I expected, I just didn’t have my scoring hat on,” said Harrington, who got up and down for par from the rough behind the 18th for his 71. “I had a couple of three putts and didn’t get up and down a few times. It was one of those days where I am not disappointed with one under. If I had my scoring hat on it could have been a few better.
“After three weeks off, my preparation has been very poor coming in to this but I am very happy with how I played. If I had gone three under and come back in two over I would be a lot more disgruntled. Coming back in three under was half decent.”
Harrington could have been forgiven for freewheeling his way round after a pulled fairway wood into the water at the par-five second and a bunkered tee shot at the 202 yard third led to back to back bogeys.
Even when he rolled home a downhill 15 footer at the fourth to get back to one over, he three putted the par three eighth from 25 feet, leaving his uphill birdie chance a tantalising five feet short of its target.
Singh was equally erratic early on, three putting three times as he also went to the turn in two over par 38 before three early back nine birdies catapulted him from second last to joint fourth on one under par.
The Fijian ran up a double bogey five at the par three 15th, where Harrington three-putted for bogey, and eventually carded a level par 72.
Harrington chipped dead from left of the green at the par five 16th to get back to one under par and while his 35 foot birdie effort at the 17th came up just short, he holed a testing four footer for par at the last after an exquisitely judged chip from thick rough over the back of the green.
Playing in his first event after a 10 week break, Woods got off the perfect start in his bid for a fourth victory here, picking birdies at the opening two holes and adding three more birdies by the 11th to lead on five under par with one to play as Stenson drew level with him after a run of four consecutive birdies from the 11th.
Jim Furyk posted a four under par 68 and Masters champion Zach Johnson a 69 but it was a nightmare day for Ryder Cup veteran Colin Montgomerie, 44, who was propping up the 16-man field on eight over par with two holes to play.