Padraig Harrington is hoping to “sneak in” and turn a bad year into a spectacular one after opening with a three under 67 in the Tour Championship in Atlanta.
The Dubliner kept his hopes of a possible $11.35m FedExCup payoff alive when he finished the day tied for second place with Tiger Woods and Stewart Cink and just a stroke behind leader Sean O’Hair, who set the pace with a 66.
Harrington must win at East Lake and hope that Woods finishes worse than solo second if he is to capture the $1.35m title and the $10m FedExCup bonus.
And while he failed to build on a spectacular start that saw him race to four under par through seven holes, he was more than pleased with his opening gambit.
He said: “I hit plenty of fairways and had a lot of chances all day. I slipped up a little bit at the end but holed a couple of nice par putts. I played nicely and still managed to scramble when I needed to.
“I had a good start and I was thinking I could go low from there but it is hard to get it close on a number of holes. There are holes where you are hitting five and six irons and with the greens as firm as they are and the pins at the front, the best you can do is 25 feet downhill.
“The greens are quick coming downhill so unless you hole putts you are not going to hole a very low one but if you play well a 66 or 67 is certainly out there.”
Harrington was tempted to write off his year after missing eight cuts in his first 16 starts.
But he turned his season around after a disappointing defence of the Open at Turnberry by putting his swing modifications on hold until December.
As a result, he’s in position to turn his season around spectacularly by winning the FedExCup.
He said: “It is quite exciting for me because I have had a poor year for the first six or seven months. I was doing other things, let’s say, and I had to turn it all around. I have good a few weeks and if I have a good week here this week it could turn into a spectacular year and I kind of like the idea of that. I could sneak in and have a great year.”
Harrington signalled his intent right from the start at East Lake when he donned his “Harri Putter” hat and reeled of four birdies in the first seven holes to grab a share of the lead.
In fact, he had a chance to move clear at the par-five ninth but his eight footer curled just wide, leaving him tied with Sean O’Hair on four under.
Bursting with confidence after five top-10s on the trot, Ireland’s triple major winner got off to a perfect start when he hit a 128-yard wedge to 16 feet at the first and drained the slick downhill putt for a birdie.
After a par three at the short second, he hit a 93-yard wedge to six feet at the third and holed that too to go got straight into a share of second place behind early pace setter Stewart Cink.
He made his first mistake at the fourth when he came up short in a greenside bunker but splashed out to five feet and holed the putt for his par.
But it wasn’t long before he was right back on the birdie trail, rifling a stunning 243 yard hybrid to 12 feet at the long par-four fifth to grab a share of the lead with Open champion Cink on three under.
Harrington played a practical joke on Cink earlier this week when he “nicked” the American’s Claret Jug and hid it in his locker.
And the American must have been wondering what he had to do to shake of the Irish ace.
As Cink followed a bogey at the 13th with a birdie at the 15th to get back to four under par, Harrington picked up his fourth birdie of the day at the seventh when he rolled in a 25 footer from the back of the green to share the lead again.
FedExCup favourite Woods got off to a slow start when he narrowly missed birdie chances at the first and second.
Seeking his seventh win of the year, the world No1 birdied the third but handed that shot back when he was bunkered at the par-three sixth.
Opting to hit fairway woods off most tees, Harrington was rarely in trouble and could easily have surged well clear had his putter stayed hot for 18 holes.
He two-putted from long range at the 10th, 11th and 12th before leaving a 19-foot chance hanging on the lip of the hole at the 13th.
His only major mistake came at the par five 15th, where he was in a greenside bunker in two but failed to escape at the first attempt and took six.
He then chipped and putted for pars after coming up well short of the green at both the 16th and 18th.
Woods, meanwhile, was one over par through eight holes but birdied four of his next seven holes - the ninth, 12th, 13th and 15th - to match Harrington’s 67.