Padraig Harrington struggled with his distance control and failed to finish his round as darkness forced play to be suspended in the opening round of the Northern Trust Open at blustery Riviera.
Chasing a victory that would catapult him back into the world’s top 50 and qualify him for the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral in a fortnight, the Dubliner was one-over par and six shots adrift of clubhouse leader Phil Mickelson as he faced a six foot par putt on his 17th hole (the eighth).
The left-hander began his bid for back-to-back PGA Tour victories by chipping in for birdie at the 18th to card and impressive five under par 66 and a one-stroke lead over JB Holmes and Hunter Mahan with Harrington one of 30 players who must return to the course at 7am (3pm Irish time) on Friday to complete their rounds.
The 41-year old Californian cruised to five under through 13 holes but followed a lone bogey at the par three 16th, where he missed an eight footer for par after going through the back of the green, with a trademark hole out at the par-four finishing hole.
But while the game appears to come easy to Mickelson right now following his demolition of Tiger Woods at Pebble Beach last Sunday, Harrington struggled to sparkle in Tinseltown following his heartening display at Pebble Beach last week, where he tied for seventh.
Starting on the driveable 10th, he missed a two and half foot putt for birdie and then failed to birdie the par-five 11th after overshooting the green from 90 yards.
He had to hole a five footer just to save par there but bogeyed the 12th when he airmailed the green again and missed from just inside 11 feet for his par four.
He missed a 14 foot birdie chance at the 13th and an 18 footer at the par-three 14th before chipping dead for his par from above the bunker short of the 15th green.
Following a safe, two putt par at the 16th, he was forced to grind hard to avoid a bogey at the par-five 17th, holing from five feet for par after overshooting the green from 82 yards.
Three putts from just inside 30 feet led to a frustrating bogey at the tough 18th and a two-over par outward nine. And when he failed to birdie the par-five first and then had to get up and down from left of the green just to save par at the second, it looked like being a long afternoon for the world No 86.
Forced to chip and putt for par again at the second, he finally earned some breathing space with a birdie at the third, where he hit a 365 yard drive and a 77-yard approach to just three feet.
But it was all a grind.
He had to get up and down from close to 90 feet after coming up short at the long, par-three fourth and then overshot the target by 20 yards at the next when faced with a 120 yard approach from the fairway.
Forced to hole a four and a half footer there to save his par and remain on one-over, Harringtontwo putted the par-three sixth from 20 feet and then missed a six foot chance at the seventh before a missed green at the eighth left him a tricky six and a half footer for par.
Sergio Garcia shot a two under 69 to share sixth place with world No 1 Luke Donald tied for 14th after a steady 70. Harrington was joint 37th on a day of high scoring.
Mickelson called it a “challenging” day but still felt it was possible to score well.
He said: “It was a challenging day today because Riviera doesn’t give you great opportunities to run balls onto the green. That kikuyu grabs it so you really have to fly it on. Fortunately the greens were somewhat receptive, and that’s why I think the scores weren’t extremely high.
“A lot of them were right around par. You could keep the ball underneath the wind, underneath the tree line and still get it to stop somewhat on the greens because they were receptive. So I thought that even though the wind was challenging, it was still a fair test.”
His confidence is sky high as the countdown to the Masters begins but he admitted that his early season form shook his resolve somewhat before he produced that blistering closing 64 to come from six shots behind on the final day to win the AT&T National Pro-Am.
“I felt very confident at the start of the year because I had played eight to ten rounds exactly like Sunday’s final round, and I felt like I was so amped up and ready to start the season that I came out and played three terrible tournaments, and I don’t know what happened there, and my confidence took a little bit of a hit.
“To come back and play the way I know I can play Sunday when I needed it most at Pebble, it gets my confidence right back to where I was starting the season, and I’m excited about the upcoming event, especially heading into our biggest event in April.”