From Brian Keogh at Oakmont
Padraig Harrington held on to his US Open dream at mighty Oakmont - but only by his fingertips.
The Irish ace failed to make even one birdie in a three over par 73 that left him tied with Graeme McDowell and already five shots behind early leader Nick Dougherty.
And while the Dubliner was not hitting any panic buttons, he confessed that he can’t afford another bad round if he is to end his major drought.
After two bogeys in his last four holes, Harrington said: “A 73 is not the worst start but I would rather have shot 73 and played a bit better.
“I am certainly not feeling as confident today as I would have been yesterday. I didn’t play well, especially early on, and I was doing well to hang in there.
“I don’t thing I’ve done too much damage but the problem is trying to play well for the next three days after not playing well today.
“The guy who wins this tournament is going to have a 73 one day. I’m not panicking about my score, but I would be a bit worried about the way I played.
“I’ll go and hit a few shots and try and work it out. But it is not something you’d want to be doing. If you were playing well, you wouldn’t be be doing it.”
McDowell’s problems all came on Oakmont's fearsome greens as he three-putted three times on the front nine and took 36 putts for his round.
A double bogey at the dreaded 18th left him four over and furious at the turn after he had missed just one green in regulation.
But he praised caddie Ken Comboy for calming him down and prevent him from completely losing his head.
McDowell groaned: “I was tearing my hair out to be honest. I was not in a very good frame of mind and my caddie had to talk me in off the ledge as he likes to say.
“Thankfully I have a good man on the bag because I was ready to hit the self destruct button and one point out there.”
McDowell knew he was in for a long day when he three-putted his opening hole, the tough 10th, from 30 feet.
But he bounced back brilliantly from four over after nine to play the back nine in one under with eight pars and a birdie at the long fourth.
He explained: “At my first hole I left myself a 30 footer down the hill across the slope, whipped it 12 feet by and said, ‘Welcome to the US Open.’ In the end I three putted three times in 18 holes.
“But I hit 16 greens in regulation today and played really well. I really couldn't have faulted my tee to green game but my putting was not good for the first nine holes at all. These greens are very, very scary.”
Harrington was far from upbeat about his chances, however, after losing the timing and rhythm of his swing.
He struggled for pars over his front nine before finally dropping his first shot of the day at the 18th where he hooked his tee shot into a drainage ditch and two-putted from 20 feet for bogey after taking a penalty drop.
He continued in the same vein on the back nine and after failing to birdie the short par-five fourth, he found sand at the sixth and seventh to drop shots back to back and then missed a 12 footer for birdie at the last.
Harrington said: “The actual score itself has done too much harm, but I would need to play a lot better golf for the next three days.
“Unfortunately, the two late bogeys came in amongst holes where I felt I might have made a couple of birdies either side.
“You’re going to hit good shots at times and make bogey. So, I can’t complain with the score in its entirety, but I certainly could have been a few better at the end.”
Harrington was never close enough to threaten the hole with his birdie chances and paid the price every time he made a mistake.
At the par three sixth he pushed his tee shot into sand a missed from six feet and then at the seventh he hit a pure six iron from 190 yards that drifted left into more sand.
He said: “The holes I bogeyed I could easily have parred, and I had a good chance at the end there and thought it was going to go in.
“I suppose 73 is a fair representation of how I played. I just didn't hit my wedges close and that is how you make opportunities for birdies.
“I had a couple of chances to be one or two better but overall I didn't deserve to be better than three over.
“I have been hitting the ball very well coming in. Yesterday afternoon I was just questioning it and today I hit a couple of hooks early on and that didn't help for the rest of the day.”