From Brian Keogh in Los Angeles
Padraig Harrington got off to a sensational start in his bid to add the Northern Trust Open to his list of US successes at The Riviera Club.
Blessed by perfect conditions for the second day in a row, the Dubliner produced a Seve-like up and down for a birdie his opening hole (the 10th) and then drained a 30 footer at the 12th to get to within two shots of early leader KJ Choi on four under par.
Despite being warned not to overdo things following his bout of shingles last month, Harrington’s Thursday afternoon session on the range obviously did him no harm at all as he came out of the gate like a thoroughbred on a sun-drenched afternoon in the Hollywood Hills.
The 315-yard 10th is one of the great holes in American golf and after hitting a rescue off the tee into the heavy rough just right of the flag, he conjured a magnificent three with a sensational flop shot that finished just nine feet from the hole.
There was even better to come at the 574-yard 11th, though he had to settle for par this time.
After blasting the longest drive recorded on the hole all day - a 319-yard whopper - he bunkered his approach but played a wonderful recovery to just inside four feet to a pin situated on a tricky tier.
But after doubting the line and calling over caddie Ronan Flood for a second opinion, he missed and walked off fuming with himself.
At the downwind 12th, he took advantage of a 329-yard corker by holing a 30 footer for birdie to get to four-under par.
A par save from 45 yards at the 14th kept his momentum going on a day when Phil Mickelson was making one of his customary charges.
Three off the lead starting the day, the left hander missed a great eagle chance at the first but then birdie the tough par-three fourth from 12 feet and followed that by curling home an outrageous 60 footer from just off the green at the next to join overnight leader Choi and Texan Chad Campbell on six under par.
Campbell and Mickelson both bogeyed to fall back but Harrington was fortunate to avoid the stiff winds that plagued the afternoon starters on the opening day.
It was a case of twice-damned for English pair Justin Rose and Lee Westwood who missed the cut comfortably.
Rose carded added a 75 to his battling 72 - his day ruined by a triple bogey seven at the second where he took five strokes to get down from greenside sand - to finish on five over par.
It was a similar story for Westwood, whose run of seven successive top 10 finishes came to an end with a grizzly 78
England’s Paul Casey rallied from his opening 73 with a fine 70 after poaching back Scottish caddie Craig Connolly from Colin Montgomerie this week
“I have grown up a lot in the 12 months. I was too hard on Craig,” Casey admitted after finishing on one-over par. “What is it they say about only recognising a good thing when it is gone. I couldn’t be more delighted to have him back on the bag.”
But it was Connolly and not Casey, who broke the news to Montgomerie.
“I was dreading making the call to Monty,” said Connolly, who split with Casey following last year’s US Open. “But he was fantastic about it.
“What made it so difficult is that he has been working with his coach Pete Cowen and it is only a matter of time before he wins again.”