Brian Keogh in Miami
It is not known whether Padraig Harrington is a fan of Mark Twain but like the great American author, the Dubliner could safely say that rumours of his demise have been greatly exaggerated as he opened with a superb, six-under par 66 in the WGC-CA Championship at Doral’s Blue Monster.
Making an unscheduled stop in Miami after following missed cuts in Los Angeles and Pebble Beach with a first round exit in the Accenture Match Play, the Dubliner notched six birdies on an immaculate card to finish the day just a stroke behind leaders Jeev Milkha Singh, Retief Goosen, Prayad Marksaeng and a spectacular Phil Mickelson, in a six-way log jam for fifth place.
But that wasn’t the only feel-good story for Irish golf on an overcast day in Miami as that golfing version of Huckleberry Finn, Rory McIlroy, continued his American adventures with a four-under par 68 that left him tied for 14th and well within striking distance.
Still, there was plenty more to write home about.
Sweden's Henrik Stenson stripped down to his underpants to play a shot from the water hazard at the third, where he made a great bogey five en route to a 69 and later explained: "I was only wearing two things when I hit the shot, my jocks and my golf glove – that is the only thing that will appear in the picture aside from the golf club – just the way God created me!! Shirt, trousers, socks, shoes, hat, the lot was off!!"
While all this was going on, Harrington was successfully focussing on getting the ball in the hole - a skill that has proved elusive for him in recent weeks.
“I’m very happy,” Harrington said. “Obviously I have not had a great run of form so far this year, so it's nice to shoot a good score. I certainly didn't hit the driver very well today but my mind seemed to be in the right place and I hit my irons well and my short game was good. So all of those things add up to 66."
Explaining his unscheduled stop here, he added; "Not having played enough so far, it would have been foolhardy to go into Bay Hill and Houston and then obviously the Masters without feeling like I've been on the golf course and being sharp. I've definitely got caught up with doing too much practice and been more concerned with swinging the club than scoring. I know it's not the right attitude going into a major so I need to get out there and play golf and get the ball in the hole."
Harrington excels on courses with light rough and the cold Florida winter has played into his hands this week.
While he hit just four of 14 fairways off the tee, the Dubliner missed just four greens and took 26 putts in a performance that will have greatly boosted his confidence after a few disconcerting weeks.
As Graeme McDowell three-putt the last for a 73 and Darren Clarke paid a heavy price for a front nine of 40 en route to a 74, Harrington raced to the turn in three-under par 33 before picking up two more shots at the par five 10th and 12th, where he rolled in a 24 footer for his birdie after tangling with the left rough off the tee.
His final birdie of the day came at the 14th, where he hit a short iron to two feet. But for much of the day it looked as though he would be playing second fiddle to 19-year-old McIlroy once more.
Growing with confidence with each tournament round, the Holywood starlet began in spectacular fashion alongside Jim Furyk and Adam Scott when he rifled a six-iron into the heart of the par-five first green and rolled in a 34 footer for an eagle three.
Still, there are speed bumps in the path of the teenage hero and while he birdied the fifth, seventh, he threw in a bogey at the sixth, where he was bunkered greenside.
Out in three-under par 33, McIlroy birdied the par five 10th by holing a 25 foot putt and picked up another shot at the par-five 12th to get to five under par before back to back bogeys at the 13th and 14th halted his charge up the leaderboard.
His response showed that he is a player of quality, however: a glorious mid iron to just two feet at the short 15th followed by three closing pars on one of the toughest stretches in golf.
“I think I could have gone lower to be honest,” said McIlroy, who drew a large gallery of Mums, Dads and kids. “I got off to a great start and played the front nine really well and was three under to the turn and then birdied the tenth and the 12th to go to five and so I felt I was on a nice little run there but then the bogeys on the 13th and the 14th sort of halted my momentum a little bit.
“But I picked a nice one up on the 15th and could have got another on the 16th but misread it. But overall it is pretty tricky out there with the wind but obviously the scoring is very, very good and I’ll need to shoot something a little bit lower tomorrow to get myself back in there for the weekend.”
Brian Keogh in Miami