From Brian Keogh at Wentworth
Padraig Harrington opened with his lowest round at Wentworth since 2001 and roared: Roll on €1 million challenge.
The Dubliner birdied the last two holes to card a three under par 69 and trail leaders Justin Rose and Paul Broadhurst by just three shots.
And that left him perfectly poised to make a run for the €1 million bonus on offer for completing the Irish Open - PGA Championship double.
After a round that featured six birdies and just three bogeys, Harrington was delighted to come through a “damage limitation” exercise with his chances of victory intact.
Struggling with his swing and his focus after the high of his Irish Open victory, the Dubliner put his success down to a poker of birdies at Wentworth’s par fives.
He said: “I didn’t feel good going out there and my goal was to limit any damage. Obviously I have done slightly better than that and it leaves me in a good position going into my early round tomorrow.”
A conservative approach saw the European No 1 play the first eight holes in one over par.
But he threw caution to the wind on the way home with birdies at the ninth, 11th, 12th, 17th and 18th erasing a three-putt bogey at the 14th.
Playing under pressure - just as he did at Adare Manor last week - suits Harrington’s style.
And he confessed that his game responded on the back nine where there is no room for error and gung-ho attitude is rewarded.
He added: “Here, because there is so much trouble, you are better off not seeing anything and you can do better out of it.
“When I was put under pressure my game was good, so that augurs well for the next three days.”
Harrington has never won two tournaments in a row but he has not ruled out doing it this week and earning a million euro bonus for his trouble.
Before heading for the physio for a rubdown, he said: “I am very much aware of the million euro. Who wouldn’t be. The longer I stay in the tournament the more chance I have.
“The 69 is ahead of schedule. Wentworth’s a monster and a hell of a track but hopefully I’ll be a lot stronger tomorrow and get stronger as the week goes on.”
But while Harrington was happy with his opening effort, Darren Clarke, Graeme McDowell, Paul McGinley, Damien McGrane, Gary Murphy and Peter Lawrie all have work to do.
Clarke opened with a 72, McGinley, McDowell and Murphy took 74 and Lawrie and McGrane 76.
Nursing a slight hand injury, Clarke said: “I am still a bit rusty. But it’s just nice to playing golf again and level par around here is not too bad.”
McDowell also finished with a birdie and immediately slammed the changes made to the par-five 12th by stablemate Ernie Els as a “disgrace”.
McDowell said: “I have to say most of the changes are good but No 12 now is an absolute disgrace of a golf hole. It’s the worst hole I’ve ever played.
“He’s brought those hazards in and you’ve got about a 24-yard gap at 290. I played a three wood off the tee today and was nearly in it.”
One under par with six to play, McGinley was bitterly disappointed to drop four shots in the next three holes before a birdie at the last gave him a 74.
McGinley said: “I can’t see light at the end of the tunnel at the moment. But I am in this game long enough to know that it will come back. I am not hitting quality at all and everything is a battle.”
Royal County Down’s SImon Thornton birdied two of the last three holes for an excellent level par 72.