From Brian Keogh in Miami
Big gun Henrik Stenson roared into an early lead as the internationals dominated the WGC - CA Championship in Miami.
But Padraig Harrington was also hanging tough as high winds and squally showers made scoring tough in the $8 million extravaganza at Doral's Blue Monster.
Strapping Swede Stenson racked up seven birdies and just two bogeys in a five under par 67 to share the early lead with Aussie Robert Allenby, one stroke clear of Thomas Bjorn.
But while Harrington failed to light up the leaderboard, he turned in level par and then birdied the 14th from seven feet to move into the top 10 alongside Tiger Woods on one under with three to play.
Bidding for his second WGC victory of the season, Accenture Match Play winner Stenson birdied two of his last three holes and top a leaderboard dominated by international players.
Spain’s Jose Maria Olazabal and Aussie Aaron Baddeley carded three under par 69s to share fourth place on three under with South African Ernie Els a shot further back after a frustrating 70.
Still an unknown factor in the US, Stenson hopes to put that right this week and go on to contend in the Masters in three weeks time.
And after compiling a brilliant round in testing conditions, he is hoping that he can hang in there until Sunday and extend his massive lead at the top of the European Order of Merit.
Stenson said: “It was a bit of a struggle but I managed to get through it pretty well. You’ve just got to try and play smart, hit the fairways and greens and give yourself the easiest putt possible.
“I want to go out and play well every week but the bigger the event, the more you want to win it.”
As Tiger Woods opened with a 71 that featured three birdies, two bogeys and 32 putts, it was more of a struggle for Harrington and world No 3 Phil Mickelson early on.
Harrington got off to the perfect start when rolled home a 25-footer at the par five first after going from the left rough off the tee to a greenside bunker.
But like playing partners Mickelson and Hideto Tanihara, the Dubliner had to battle hard to tame wet and windy conditions.
As Mickelson limped to the turn in five over par with Tanihara faring one shot worse, Harrington as though he was burning it up by comparison
The Dubliner’s putting from short range was put the test several times on the front nine but he resolved just half those situations with pars as the wind made balance difficult.
At the 236-yard fourth, the reigning European No 1 left his 30 foot birdie putt five feet short coming down the hill but drained his par effort to remain on one under.
His first mistake came at the 442 yard sixth, where he hit a poor approach in the front left bunker and failed to save par from 10 feet.
A controlled wedge from the rough to just nine feet at the downwind seventh got him back into red figures and he holed a similar effort at the next but this time for par.
Opting to lay up short of the greenside water in two, Harrington's pitch flew five yards too far into sand but he salvaged a par with a solid putt from eight feet.
His luck ran out at the tricky par-three ninth where he failed to hold his tee shot into the wind and missed the green right.
A deft pitch finished six feet away but the Irish star never really came close with his par putt and turned in level par.