Patient Padraig Harrington produced a trademark, grinding display to banish the demons that haunted him at Pebble Beach and surge into contention at the Northern Trust Open in Los Angeles.
The Dubliner complained that he was back to “ironing my hands” at last week’s AT&T Pro-Am - a reference to the Harry Potter character Dobby the elf, who resorted to self-harm to punish himself when he felt he had done something wrong.
Harrington confessed that he was beating himself up for his mistakes on the Monterey Peninsula, where he crashed from tied fourth at halfway to a disappointing joint 63rd after weekend rounds of 73 and 78.
And so he was pleased to turn things around at Riviera Country Club, where he chipped in twice and had just 24 putts in a three under 68 that leaves him just a stroke off the lead held by no fewer than nine players.
One of the keys to the improvement in Harrington’s attitude is his reunion with his mental coach Dr Bob Rotella earlier this week.
Writing on his blog, Harrington explained: “Last week my routines and focus were poor during the weekend and it cost me dearly. However, this week I have spent time on this myself and also with Bob Rotella, which is the first time I have seen him this year and considering last week it couldn’t have come at a better time.
“I had a good chat with him on Sunday evening about what had gone wrong in Pebble and where I thought I needed to improve. We worked on it again on Tuesday evening and Wednesday and I have to say I feel so much better. After working with Bob I could see that I had become too hard on myself and trying too hard to hit the perfect shot.”
LA is one of Harrington’s favourite tour stops and he was pleased to card an eagle, two birdies and just one bogey to finish the day tied for 10th place with Vijay Singh, Fred Couples, Peter Tomasulo (17 holes) and English pair Brian Davis and Luke Donald.
Australian’s John Senden, Robert Allenby and Aaron Baddeley, Scot Martin Laird, Swede Carl Pettersson and Americans Spencer Levin, Ben Martin, Bill Haas and J.B. Holmes hit four under 67s to share the first round lead.
“Tee to green the conditions were nice,” Harrington said. “The greens were quick enough so you had to be very careful around the greens so while I only had the one bogey, I had to work a little harder at times. I had a lot of putts from around the fringes and you just had to be very wary of the pace.
“These are poa annua greens and you get downhill, they’re fast. With them being slightly softer and slightly darker, they look slow but they were quick. There were a number of putts where you think, is it getting there, and you are three or four feet by. You needed a lot of patience and you need to work very hard.”
Starting on the driveable 10th, Harrington was just 20 yards from the pin in the left rough but his pitch ran through the back of the green and he eventually had to hole a five footer to save par.
After a two-putt par at the long 11th, he then chipped in from 50 feet from left of the 12th for his first birdie of the day to get into red figures.
While a seven-foot birdie chance got away at the 13th, he got up and down from the front bunker at the 14th to save par before missing a couple of birdie chances from around 12 feet at the short 16th and par-five 17th.
He was forced to work hard for his par at the 18th, two putting from a perilous place above the pin to turn in one under par 35.
But his round took off at the 503-yard, par-five first where he finished just inches off the green but chipped in from 50 feet for an eagle three to get to three under.
Forced to chip and putt for his par at the second, he dropped his only shot of the day at the 204-yard first, where he missed the green to the right and chipped eight feet past the hole.
It was hard work all the way and after two putting the fifth from 40 feet, he chipped to four feet at the short sixth to earn his three before picking up a shot at the seventh with a 133-yard approach to just three feet.
Phil Mickelson shot an even par 71 as play was suspended due to bad light with 14 players still to finish their opening rounds.
We do all we can now to get 72 holes in, so if we go until Monday it’s no big deal,” said Mickelson. “I think we’ll be able to get 72 holes.”
However, big-hitting Bubba Watson shot 76 and then withdrew citing a pulled stomach muscle.
“I went to the ER earlier in the week just to check it out, making sure it wasn’t something more serious,” Watson said after the round. “Then it was still bothering me so I did a CAT scan, so I did an ultrasound and a CAT scan, so I did two visits to the doctors two days apart.”
NBC’s Ryan Balangee reported:
“Watson, though, had agreed to be mic’d up by Golf Channel for the opening two rounds of the event. He was also part of the featured grouping alongside Fred Couples and Anthony Kim.
The Farmers Insurance Open winner gave it a go, but couldn’t. He was unable to concentrate on the round, leading to his 76.
“Tried to go today. It’s just my mind was worried about that and not worried about playing golf. I’m not in the right place.”