Padraig Harrington might have struggled with his focus but the diplomatic Dubliner lived up to his billing as golf’s Mr Ambassador following the opening round of the Volvo Golf Champions on Colin Montgomerie’s under fire Royal Golf Club design in Bahrain.
The three-time major winner shot a two under par 70 to finish the day six shots behind leader Johan Edfors on a course that has come in for harsh criticism because of the severity of the greens, which are undulating in the extreme.
“@WestwoodLee I should have joined you and @McIlroyRory for a week off. School boy error playing,” Ian Poulter told his one million plus Twitter followers after his level par 72.
Poulter must have felt that he hadn’t gone far enough with his criticism of the greens and couldn’t resist the temptation to throw a few more darts at Montgomerie, no doubt goaded on by Westwood’s reminders not to forget his crampons for the second round.
“Apparently the Architect wanted to make a statement with the greens, he did that alright they are &%$#,” Poulter wrote.
Poulter couldn’t stop his sniping however, adding later: “I am really looking forward to my 5am alarm call to go walk the Himalayas. Im so excited & i just cant hide it… shall la la la la.”
Montgomerie was in no mood to talk after a level par 72 but Harrington, who is an ambassador for Failte Ireland, the Special Olympics and the R&A, was as tactful as ever.
“Interesting,” Harrington said when asked what he thought of the course. “It played very well today. Certainly it played excellent off the tee which meant it was a challenging course. You didn’t have to lay up and you could be a little more aggressive. The pin positions are difficult and you have to play some good iron shots. It was a good tournament course today and it would be tough for the members.”
No mention of the greens, though he did say that he liked them when writing on his Facebook page earlier this week:
The course was designed by Monty and I have to say that it appears that he has built a course that would suit his game. There are a lot of lay ups from the tee and then the greens incorporate small shelves so as to suit a good iron player, which is everything that Monty was great at during his career. It is an interesting course to play because of the green designs - a lot of the players are pulling their hair out over them but I have to say I like them. They put a premium on good iron play and also on a strong short game. I find one of the hardest things on this course is the perception from the tee - everything looks a lot further away than it actually is, but thankfully I have played a couple of practice rounds and got used to it.
Concentration was his problem in round one and while he was careful marking of his golf ball, he was upset by the decision of Chief Referee Andy McFee to decree that there are no bunkers this week but waste areas, where players can ground their club.
“I struggled big time today to focus but I limited the damage as much as possible. I didn’t hit it very well so I will take a lot of positives out of shooting 70,” he said. “When I was marking my ball on the greens I thought a couple of times about what happened last week in Abu Dhabi. But the biggest distraction out there was being able to ground my club in a bunker.
“It completely upset my routine for bunker shots. You don’t know what to do. You’re standing there and it’s all new and confusing. Three times I hit fat shots out of bunkers. There’s no advantage to being allowed ground your club. Once I did ground it and hit it terribly fat and twice I didn’t ground it and hit those shots fat as well.”
Peter Lawrie finished the opening day as the best of the Irish contingent on four under par after a 68 that featured dropped shots at two of his last three holes.
Darren Clarke shot a frustrating 69 he felt should have been several shots better as Michael Hoey fired a level par 72 and Damien McGrane struggled to a three over 75.