Open champion Padraig Harrington got the tough links warm-up he was looking for when he carded a battling four-over par 75 to grab a share of the lead in the weather-delayed Ladbrokes.com Irish PGA Championship at The European Club.
The defending champion took just over eight hours to complete a stop-start opening round during which his progress was delayed by more than two hours by fog.
In the end the Dubliner emerged from a day of buffeting winds and squally showers on the Brittas Bay links to join Ryder Cup hero Eamonn Darcy, 55, in a share of the clubhouse lead.
Play was halted three times by the fog before officials finally gave up their battle and suspended play at 7pm with half the field still to complete their opening rounds in the €70,000 event.
After wishing for tough conditions to hone his game ahead of his Open Championship defence next week, Harrington was almost apologetic at the finish.
“It certainly was a tough day,” Harrington said after round that featured two birdies, four bogeys and a double bogey. “I got what I asked for - sorry about that.
“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.”
Veteran Darcy, who once held the course record at The European Club, rolled back the years as he compiled a 75 that could have been two shots better had it not been for three-putt bogeys at the 14th and 17th.
“It was just a horrible day to play golf and the course is so tough,” Darcy said at the finish. "I can’t see anybody shooting a good score out there.”
As it turned out, he was almost right as last year’s runner up Brendan McGovern, Ballina’s Edward Tracey and Harrington’s playing partner John Kelly finished a shot further back on 76.
Headfort professional McGovern, 42, made a mockery of odds of 66-1 when he stood on the 18th tee at one-over par.
But with no ball spotters on duty, he was gutted to lose his tee shot and finish with a triple bogey seven.
He said: "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."
Former international David Jones of Derry was the leader on the course on one-under par after just six holes when play was suspended - one stroke clear of David Higgins, Eoin O’Connor, Robert Giles and former champions David Mortimer and Martin Sludds.
Play was set to resume at 7 am this morning with Harrington unlikely to start his second round until late afternoon.
First Round Completed Scores:
75 E Darcy (Le Salle); 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);