Padraig Harrington almost got more than he bargained for as he came through nightmare conditions to share the clubhouse lead with veteran Eamonn Darcy in the weather-delayed Ladbrokes.com Irish PGA Championship.
The defending champion arrived at The European Club hoping for the toughest possible conditions in his warm-up for his Open Championship defence at Royal Birkdale next week.
But he wasn’t counting on nine holes of torrential rain followed by another nine holes of fog-delayed action that eventually added up to a four-over par 75 that took him eight hours and 15 minutes to complete.
Scores soared into the high 90s as stiff winds, deep rough and squally showers took their toll on the 120-man field.
But in the end just half of them got to finish as was suspended for the day due to fog shortly after 7pm with the rest of the field, including Open qualifier Philip Walton, in the early stages of their rounds.
Harrington had his share of troubles on his way round the punishing par 71 track but was pleased in the end with his efforts as he matched Darcy and finished the day one stroke clear of Headfort’s Brendan McGovern, Ballina’s Edward Tracey and St Margaret’s John Kelly on plus four.
“It certainly was a tough day. I got what I asked for - sorry about that,” he said with a grin. “It was a battle. You knew if you missed the fairways you were going to get in trouble. All my dropped shots came off missing fairways. It was a tough day for that.”
Starting at 9.45, Harrington dropped two shots in his first three holes as rain and wind lashed the Brittas Bay course.
He steadied the ship by holing a 30 footer for birdie at the fifth but bogeyed the eighth to turn for home in two-over par 37 after taking 3 hours and 15 minutes to complete the front nine.
With play delayed twice by fog in the afternoon - with one stoppage running to just over two hours - it was another five hours before he eventually made it back to the scorer’s hut.
After a birdie at the 10th, he bogeyed the 12th after a poor drive and then double bogeyed the 15th when he drove into a fairway bunker and thinned his second over the green into bushes and never saw it again.
He had two hours to dwell on that shot as fog reduced visibility to 100 yards and forced officials to suspend play.
But after finishing with three solid pars when play resumed, he declared himself happy with his first day efforts in his bid to win a fifth Irish PGA title.
Darcy wasn’t quite as chipper at the finish after a birdie-free round that featured four bogeys and 14 pars.
Two of his dropped shots were the result of three putts on the 14th and 17th greens and he could barely mask his sarcasm as he described his day as “very interesting”.
Darcy added: “Trying to keep the clubs dry. That’s the beginning. It was just a horrible day to play golf and the course is so tough. I can’t see anybody shooting a good score out there. It’s a wonderful golf course but you need a bit of kind weather, don’t you.”
Headfort man McGovern, 42, was rated a 66-1outsider by the tournament sponsors to win this year despite taking Harrington to a play-off last season.
The Dubliner was just one-over par with the tricky 18th to play but with no ball spotters on duty, he was gutted to lose his tee shot at the last and finish with a triple bogey seven.
“Shit happens,” said McGovern philosophically. "On a day like today I was flying to the last because anything, believe you me, anything under 80 is a good score for what we played in."
Irish PGA Championship
Clubhouse scores, Rd 1
75 E Darcy (La Sella); P Harrington (Unattached);
76 B McGovern (Headfort); E Tracey (Ballina);
78 N Graham (Kirkistown Castle); D Byrne (Unattached);
79 J Murray (Malahide);
80 C Lyttle (Ballyclare); J Heggarty (Claremorris);
81 K Grealy (Athlone); J Foster (Greenacres); C Mallon (Narin & Portnoo); B Trainor (South County);
82 G Howie (Adare Manor Hotel Golf); I Kerr (Carlow GR); L Walker (Dundalk); D Ryan (Cahir Pk); D Hughes (Portadown);
83 S Donnelly (Castle Hume); J Geraghty (Old Conna);
84 B Kelleher (Golf Works Cork); K Coveney (Killarney); M Ward (P&M Golf Superstore); M Mulryan (Athenry); A Murray (Greystones);
85 S Kirkpatrick (Ardee); R Danagher (Frawley Golf & Leisure); R Whitford (Knock); P O’Hagan (PM Corporate Events);
86 D Bell (Newry Academy); J Murray (Hollystown); L Hynes (Rathsallagh); G Brennan (Slade Valley); C Cullen (Balbriggan);
87 E Martin (Beaverstown); D Walker (Foxrock); F Howley (Carton House); P McCarroll (Massereene);
89 P O’Rourke (Green 18); N Howley (Black Bush); S Deegan (Spawell); Ian St John (Nenagh);
90 D McWilliams (Royal Portrush);
91 J Scullion (Royal Co Down); C Thornton (Dundalk);
93 M Monaghan (Corrstown);
94 K Foy (Stepaside);
97 R Jackson (Old Conna);
NR C McCormick (Newcastle West); D Kiely (Faithlegg); J Quinlivan (Elm Pk); E mcEneaney (Knightsbrook);
Rtd P Ring (Elm Green); S O’Rourke (Tramore); H Jackson (Donabate);