Padraig Harrington broke par on the Stadium Course for the first time since 2007 when he opened with a three under par 69 in The Players Championship to share 17th place and trail first round leaders Ian Poulter and Martin Laird by four strokes at TPC Sawgrass.
The 40-year old Dubliner had every right to feel pleased with himself in an event where he has followed back-to-back runner up finishes in 2002 and 2003 with four missed cuts in the last six years. Scores
The move from a March to a May date has not been good to Harrington until yesterday. And he was certainly a lot more cheerful than playing partner Angel Cabrera, who hit three balls in the water en route to a nine at the 17th and promptly withdrew for “personal reasons” after signing for a 78.
Yet he appeared to be only marginally happier than Tiger Woods, who failed to break 70 in the opening round at Sawgrass for the 15th time in a row when he posted an error-strewn, two over par 74 to leave himself in danger of missing back to-back cuts on the US Tour for the first time in his career.
“I’m happy with the 69,” said Harrington, who still looked less than thrilled by his early morning effort in idyllic conditions. “After three weeks off I was just a little bit tentative. My routines just weren’t good, especially on the greens. Certainly that’s where I’ll look for improvement over the next three days.”
Rory McIlroy found water at the 17th en route to a double bogey five but got up and down for par at the 18th for a level par 72, impressing playing partner Phil Mickelson (71) with his short game skills. But Graeme McDowell struggled on the greens, dropping three shots in his last five holes for a 74 that left him tied for 100th place with Woods.
By his own admission, Harrington has been struggling with his putting for the best part of 15 months and while he had just 29 putts yesterday, he missed more than his share of good birdie chances, including three inside seven feet.
He holed one from seven feet the par-five second before picking up another shot at the par-three third following a 183-yard approach to just four feet. But after looking likely to challenge for the early lead, he missed a six foot birdie chance at the fourth and then bogeyed the sixth and the par-three eighth to fall back to even par.
Ever the fighter, Harrington refused to be bowed and birdied the par-five ninth thanks to an 80 yard wedge to seven feet.
A birdie miss inside five feet at the 11th didn’t appear to bother him, however, and having missed several chances, he birdied the par-three 13th from 15 feet and the par-five 16th from five to get to three under par.
From there it was a question of avoiding major errors and after a nervy-looking two-putt from just 15 feet at the island green 17th, he had to hole a four and a half foot return putt at the last to avoid finishing with a three-putt bogey.
Woods, on the other hand, headed straight for the range as he carded a 74 featuring five bogeys and just three birdies.
“It was frustrating in the sense that my good shots ended up in bad spots, and obviously my bad shots ended up in worse spots,” said Woods, who hit just 50 percent of his fairways and greens. “It wasn’t certainly the most positive start. Any kind of momentum that I would build, I would shoot myself in the foot on the very next hole. It was just one of those days.”
Finally relieved of the “stress” of watching builders take two years and nine months to complete his palatial new home in Orlando, Poulter had nine single putts in a row in an eight-birdie 65 that gave him an early, one-stroke lead over American journeyman Blake Adams before being joined in a share of the lead by Scot Laird late in the day.
“That would be one of the top-ten rounds of golf I have ever played,” said the Englishman, who had just 10 putts in a homeward 31 featuring five birdies. “It is silly to say you would be disappointed after a round of 65 but it could have been even better. I had a lot of chances on the front nine and it would have been nice to take a few of them.”