Fast start for Harrington

By Brian Keogh

Padraig Harrington cruised to an opening 68 but trails by four shots in the $5 million HSBC Champions Tournament in Shanghai.

The Dubliner, 36, was almost kicking himself for not finishing closer to runaway leaders Niclas Fasth and Kevin Stadler at Sheshan International.

Fasth and Stadler scorched to eight under par rounds of 64 in perfect conditions to lead by three shots from Vijay Singh.

Harrington was three under par after eight holes but bogeyed the ninth and 10th before picking up three shots on the spin from the 12th to get to four under.

But the failed to push on and four closing pars saw him finish in a seven-man jog-jam for fourth place alongside US Open champion Angel Cabrera, World No 2 Phil Mickelson, England's Paul Casey and Ross Fisher, Korean KJ Choi and South Africa's Andrew McLardy.

Disappointed not to go lower, Harrington said: "I missed two fairways and made two bogeys. With the rough here, even on some of the shorter holes, it is struggle to control the ball and get to the greens. It can be difficult.

"After eight holes I could have been eight under or ten under but all of a sudden I dropped two shots and I am really kicking myself back on one under par.

"Then I hole a good putt on the 12th that possibly didn't look like it was going in and that was a big bonus. I birdie the next two and I am right back where I should have been.

"I am right back in there to four under par and while I might have finished a bit better, it keeps me in the tournament.

"I know there are a couple of eight unders out there but it is a 72 hole event and there is plenty of time to catch up.

"I am a little disappointed that the last couple of holes, which I played a three under in the pro-am, I played them in level. It is a strange game."

Harrington arrived in Shanghai with the Claret Jug in his luggage, determined to put last week's Order of Merit loss behind him by winning the first event of 2008.

He said: "I was pleased with how I performed last week. The toughest thing you can do in this game is when you have to go out and play good golf.

"More or less I did that. I was a couple of shots away from the play-off and not winning will help to push me on this week.

"Even though I am tired, I am motivated to do well this week and see how it goes."

The Claret Jug has been a big hit with the locals and Harrington is still amazed by the reaction of people to the famous old trophy.

He said: "Everyone wants their picture taken with it. It is a great thing to have and to be the champion."

Fasth set the early pace with just one bogey against seven birdies and an eagle at the second on his way to an eight under par 64.

Stadler was equally as impressive, the American following up a six-under front nine with just one bogey and three birdies on the way home.

Fasth said: "It was a good score. I was playing well and putting well, it's a great start to the tournament.

"I holed two putts in my first two holes and three under through two doesn't happen every day. I was hitting perfect shots to make birdies and eagles and, when you hit good shots, it really sets you off on the right foot and I just kept playing well."

Casey was also pleased with his opening round, which included six birdies, after ending the European Tour season with a 16-over-par finish at the Volvo Masters last week.

He said: "A round could always be better. The bogey on nine was frustrating and on the first I was lucky the spotters were down the left otherwise I wouldn't have found my ball. I am happy to be at four under.

"I don't know what the winning score is going to be; it is going to be a double figures under par clearly, but I have to slowly plot my way around, and if I put in four 68s I will be a very happy man because I don't think that will be too far away at the end of the week."