Padraig Harrington struggled to keep his patience and avoid mistakes yet still opened with a five under 67 in a first round birdie-fest at the Portugal Masters.
But Gareth Maybin sounded like he was about to lose his when asked about his lack of participation in the Northern Ireland golfing boom after he posted a seven under 65 to sit just a shot off the lead.
Nervously watching the Race to Dubai standings, where he sits a perilous 110th with the top 115 keeping their cards, the Ballyclare man stormed home in six under 30 on a day when 66 players broke 70 and 96 dipped under par.
“Obviously it’s going to take something pretty low to win this week, so to shoot 30 on the back nine was very nice,” said 32-year old Maybin, who is the only winless Ulsterman on the European Tour.
Out in 35 after following birdies at the second and third with a bogey at the ninth, Maybin cut loose on the way home as he birdied four holes in a row from the 10th and then followed a birdie at the 315-yard 15th with a chip in birdie at the par-five 17th.
Reminded that he was “the forgotten man of Northern Irish golf”, Maybin gritted his teeth and said: “Yeah, so everybody keeps telling me. Obviously in a boom at the minute, especially with Michael [Hoey] getting a great win two weeks ago at the Dunhill. Times are strong in the in Northern Ireland…. Somebody tells me it’s the Guinness. I guess a good crop of players and they are all shining at the moment.”
Trying not to think about what a win would mean, Maybin added: “Any time you shoot 65 is a great start. So taking each round as it comes and trying to shoot the best I can and see where I am at the end of the week.”
Maybin is tied for second, a shot behind South Africa’s James Kingston (64) with Dane Thomas Bjorn, Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger, England’s Simon Khan and Welshman Rhys Davies.
Harrington is only three off the pace after firing eight birdies and three bogeys in a 67.
But knowing he needs a win to get into the WGC-HSBC Champions in China later this month, he admitted that the mistakes came from pushing too hard to go even lower.
“I struggled to stay patient,” Harrington said. “Conditions were ideal obviously and I made three bogeys on three birdie holes. I was in good position to make birdies and it was hard to stay patient there. You felt like you should birdie every hole, and certainly cost me those bogeys.”
After birdies at the 10th and 11th, Harrington found water and took six at the par-five 12th but then birdied the 14th, 17th and first to get to four under.
But he missed a short par putt at the short, par-four second, birdied the long third and then three-putted horribly from 20 feet at the fourth, missing a slippery four footer for par.
However, he finished strongly by chipping and putting for birdie at the par-five fifth before holing from just six feet for a two at the 218-yard sixth.
Confessing that his “silly” mistakes came from trying too hard to get to the predicted winning total of around 20 under par, Harrington said: “I think the 20-under plus puts you under a lot of pressure. Certainly if I was not thinking 20-under I would have shot better than I did today.
“I was just pushing too hard. It’s easier when you feel level par - or anything up to 8-under par you feel like you’re always in the tournament and you’re just hanging on, you’re not making mistakes in those situations. Out there today, you’re going gung-ho at everything and it cost me a few shots.”
Harrington was on of 16 players to shoot a five under 67.
The others included the likes of Martin Kaymer, Colin Montgomerie and Irish pair Peter Lawrie and Gary Murphy.
Playing on a sponsor’s invitation, cardless Murphy has a golden opportunity to return to the tour. A win would give him a two year exemption but a runner up finish worth €277,000 would also be enough to see him rocket into the top 115 from 284th in the money list.
Shane Lowry and Damien McGrane are right on the cut mark despite shooting three under 69’s but Paul McGinley needs to go low to make the cut after chipping and putting poorly in a two over 74.
Harrington told the Irish Independent that he tore a couple of tendons on top of his left foot but felt no discomort while hitting the ball.
“Also the shoes I’m wearing today are a lot softer whereas the ones I was wearing yesterday were a more snug fit. But as long as I am not walking, I’m fine.”
He also gave his support to a new end of June date for the Irish Open. The June 28- July 1 date will avoid a clash with the start of the London Olympics but could also mean losing Rory McIlroy to the clashing AT&T National at Congressional.