Brian Keogh at The European Club
The European Club might have a reputation as the toughest links course in the country but no-one expected to see Padraig Harrington flat on his back during the first round of the Irish Professional Championship.
A hip injury, which he walked off in the space of a few holes, provided some midday rubber-necking on the ninth fairway as Harrington prostrated himself in an effort to click his hip back into place after one of his trademark booming tee shots.
In the end, the hip proved to be nothing more than a blip as Harrington fired five birdies and three bogeys to take a share of the first round lead with Challenge Tour professional Michael Hoey and Headfort’s Brendan McGovern.
But even with a zephyr breeze and taking into consideration that the the course played at least 350 yards short of its muscular 7,355 yards, just seven players in the 120 strong field managed to better par.
Harrington putted superbly on the way home for his 69 while Hoey and McGovern attributed their matching efforts to some straight hitting off the tee on a track that punishes the wayward like no other.
Former Greenore assistant Robert Hogan, who qualified with an 81 here last month, can attest to that after racking up a nine, an 11 and a 12 on his way to a 34-over par round of 105.
“It’s tough,” the 21 year old said with some understatement. “It was the rough... I nearly ran out of balls. Titleist gave me a dozen but I don’t think I have many left.”
Not quite so fresh from his Open championship qualifying heroics, Waterville’s David Higgins signed for a one-under par 70 that left him tied for fourth place with former Ryder Cup star Philip Walton, Dubliner Noel Fox and Michael Collins of Mallow Golf Range.
"I hit a few loose shots but a 70 is alright and I am still in there” Higgins said, who played alongside Harrington and defending champion David Mortimer. “Probably not knowing the course cost me a couple of shots as well. I last played here around six or seven years ago.
“I am not that tired but I could do with a few hours rest. I didn't get to my room until 1.15 pm. The Open? I can't wait. But this is great and I am trying to win it as well. It is great playing with Padraig. It is all going well. You try to play your own game. This course suits me as well. Get a bit of sleep and I will be ready tomorrow.”
Mortimer crashed to a six-over par 77 but Walton was pleased to birdie his final hole from eight feet and repair some of the damage caused by a double bogey six at the eighth in a six-birdie round.
With no wind to trouble him, Harrington went to the turn in one-over par, erasing a four-foot birdie at the first with bogeys at the seventh, where he missed the fairway, and the ninth.
But with the wind freshening slightly on the back nine, he holed putts of 15 and 18 feet at the 10th and 12th before two-putting the par-five 13th to move to two-under par.
Lack of focus is something that has bothered Harrington since his Irish Open success and he was annoyed to put his three-wood tee shot in a fairway trap at the 15th for his final bogey.
An eight-iron to 15 feet at the 17th helped him break 70 and finish the day alongside McGovern and Hoey at the top of the leaderboard.
"I putted well but I lost focus a number of times," Harrington said. "It is bringing it home to me that I have got to be more settled over the ball. I am losing track of what I am trying to do. I have got to get it right this week if it is going to be right next week."
Hoey and McGovern declared themselves happy with their driving after some recent struggles.
McGovern said: "I haven’t shown any form this year so I am quite happy with what I have done today. I finished with the same ball I started with! My weakness the last couple of years has been my tee shots and they weren't too bad today.
“I only used the driver four or five times and when I hit it, I hit it okay. I am making the course a bit longer having to hit three-wood off the tee but at least I am not losing the golf balls.”