Padraig Harrington got a massive Open boost when he scorched to his first sub par round for seven weeks in the Ladbrokes.com Irish PGA Championship.
Just eight days before he seeks a hat-trick of Claret Jugs at Turnberry, the Dubliner rediscovered his putting touch to fire a three under par 68 and trail Dundalk’s Leslie Walker by a stroke at a windless European Club.
Delighted with his form on the greens, Harrington said: “I am not on automatic pilot yet with my swing but I was happy with the way I putted.
“I didn’t play anywhere near as well as I did last week but I putted better and that’s a big plus. I am very happy with my chipping and putting.
“If I had putted like I have been all year that could have been a 73 or 74. I just haven’t been holing putts so it is nice to see them going in.
Harrington hit just one driver all day but missed little with his long irons and fairway woods and got up and down brilliantly all day to card his first round in the 60s since he shot 68 in the second round of the Irish Open in May.
After going to the turn in two under 33, he birdied the 11th and 14th to lead the tournament before averting disaster at the 17th.
He followed a bad drive into the left rough by hooking his second into ferns. But after taking a penalty drop, he pitched to 18 feet and drained the putt for his only dropped shot of the day.
He added: “My putting kept me going today. I felt good over my putts and changed my grip slightly last Saturday to something I had been doing six months ago. Why it took my six months to remember that, I don’t know.
“The 17th was a a good boost. Every shot I have missed this year I have been making a bogey or a double because I haven’t been making the putt. I have really learned over the last six months how important putting is to your game.
“I got up and down a few times but regarding next week I can say that I am happy with my good swings, but it is hard to bring that onto the course.”
Hitting fairways will be vital at Turnberry next week and Harrington missed just one in a solid front nine display.
He took just 12 putts going out and got up and down for par every time he missed a green with the kind of short game skills that brought him three majors in 13 months.
After a par at the first he drained a five footer for birdie at the 160-yard second and then blasted out of greenside sand to just six feet to birdie the par-five third.
His only poor drive on the front nine came at the tough fourth, where he pushed his three wood into the deep rough and had to lay up 50 yards from the green.
But he pitched to 20 feet and holed the putt for par and then saved par again at the short sixth by chipping dead after his ball had screwed off the green and down the bank of a water hazard.
Another missed green at the eighth left him a nightmare recovery from the swale right of the green but he bumped his pitch into the upslope and left himself a tap in for par.
Tackling the back nine, he birdied the par-four 11th with an an eight-iron to six feet and the par three 14th by hitting his “shot of the day” with a six iron to 12 feet.
Former British Boys champion Walker, 40, shot a faultless 67 that featured a brilliant par save from sand at the 16th he reckoned was crucial.
The three time Irish Club Professional champion said: “I played nicely. Everything was just solid and I kept it in play and got up and down from the bunker at the 16th and then birdied the 17th. That was a big plus.
“The course is set up to be played cautiously and it’s perfect for Padraig’s preparation for the British Open because you’ve really got to use your brain. You can’t power it around.”
Dunfanaghy’s Seamus McMonagle, 30, hit a two under par 69 to sit alone in third place but Open qualifier David Higgins crashed to a five over par 76.
The European Club still took its toll on the cream of Ireland’s club professionals.
There were dozens of disasters with Paul Vaughan from Ardglass racking up a 13 at the par-five 13th as he shot 88.
But it wasn’t as a tough a day at the office for Tipperary’s Marian Riordan- the first woman to tee it up in the championship since it was first played in 1907.
The Tipperary pro, 28, dug deep and bounced back from 10 over par after 12 holes to shot a nine over par 80 to keep her hopes of making the cut alive.
She said: “My sports pyschologist Carmel Kissane was out there following me and I saw her take the notebook out so I said I better get my ass in gear.
“It would have been easy to let the head go down. So I am happy that I didn’t and I am still in it."
Ladbrokes.com PGA Irish Championship at The European Club
Round One (Par 71):
67 - L Walker (Dundalk),
68 - P Harrington (Unattached),
69 - S McMonagle (Unattached),
70- T Rice (Unattached), G Lunny (Naas), D Mooney (Unattached), R Kilpatrick (Banbridge), B McElhinney (Team Ireland), G Robinson St Helen’s Bay),
71 - P O’Rourke (Green 18), P Martin (Riverside Academy),
73 - M Collins (www.foreireland.com), E Tracey (Ballina),
72 - B McGovern (Headfort),
74 - D Mortimer (www.foreireland.com), J Heggarty (Claremorris ), D McWilliams (Unattached), B Trainor (Unattached), T Mulally (Moyvalley),
75 - G Howie (Adare Manor Hotel & Golf Resort), J McDermott (Dun Laoghaire), I Kerr (Bunclody), D O’Sullivan (Club La Playa), J Kelly (St Margaret’s), C McNamara (Unattached), T Higgins (www.foreireland.com), S Young (Foyle Golf Centre), S Thornton (Royal Co Down),
76 - N Howley (Balbriggan), M Staunton (www.foreireland.com), M Allan (Pure Golf), L Bowler (Wexford), M Mulryan (Athenry), D Higgins (Waterville), J Murray (Malahide), R Giles (Greenore), J Scullion (Royal Co Down), J Bolger (Kilkenny), M McTernan (Co Sligo), W O’Callaghan (www.wayneocallaghangolf.com), C Mallon (Narin & Portnoo),
77 - D Gleeson (McGuirk’s Golf), M Ward (P&M Golf Superstore), P O’Boyle (Bandon), J Dwyer (Ashbourne), J Dignam (Slade Valley), E Brady (Clontarf), D Ryan (Cahir Pk),
78 - R Brady (Headfort), D McNamara (Portmarnock), L Naughton (Unattached), G Egan (Naas), J Langan (Leopardstown Golf Centre), O Grogan (Moate), S Taylor (The Island), G Wardlow (Dunmurry), P Jones (Coollattin), G Cuillen (Beaverstown), P O’Hagan (PM Corporate Events),
79 - R Daly (Newlands), B Hamill (BH Academy), K McGrath (Birr), G Loughrey (Roganstown), P Walton (Unattached), E McLoughlin (Wicklow), S O’Grady (Black Bush),
80 - P Graham (Galgorm Castle), P McCanny (Birr Golf Shop & DR), C Carroll (bray), S Fitzpatrick (Enniscorthy), K McGivern (Kelly’s Golf Centre), P Dooley (Cork), M O’Shea (Callan), Marian Riordan (Greystones), J Sugrue (Tralee), F Howley (Carton House), DP Jones (Unattached),
81 - R Hutton (Downpatrick), S Clinton (Portsalon), S Hoey (Waterford Castle), J Geraghty (Unattached), M Sludds (Unattached),
82 - L Harrington (Limerick), G Burke (Curragh), P Collins (Galgorm Castle), C Jelly (Banbridge), D Walker (Foxrock),
83 - D Carroll (Seapoint), I St John (Nenagh), G Kavanagh (Delgany), C McVitty (Bundoran),
84 - R Donagher (Ardee), L Owens (Killiney), R Whitford (Knock), K Foy (Stepaside), J Foster (Greeacres),
85 - S Madden (Limerick), G Massey (PGA National), M Twitchett (Hilton), I Kearney (Doonbeg),
86 - RD Kelly (Tipperary), L Hynes (Ballinstoe), B Kerley (Greenlife),
87 - McGuirk’s Golf), G Dunlea (Adare Manor Hotel & Golf Resort),
88 - T McIntyre (Ballyclare), P Vaughan (Ardglass), D O’donoghue (Newlands),
89 - B Cosgrove (Athy), J Kane-Nash (Greystones),
90 - R Jackson (Unattached),
92 - G Byrne (PGA National),
93 - P McGuirk (Co Louth),
96 - K O’Neill (Co Sligo),
97 - P Ring (Elm Green),
NR - M Heinemann (Skellig Bay), F Dwyer (Celbridge DR), J Greenaway (Banbridge), B O’Brien (Castlewarden)