Padraig Harrington frustratingly turned a great round into an average one when he crashed from a share of the lead to tied 24th after dropping three shots in his last six holes for an opening two under 68 in the HP Byron Nelson Classic in Texas.
The Dubliner overcame a careless bogey at the first with a vintage purple patch that saw him play the seven holes from the fourth to the 10th in six under par thanks to a chip-in eagle three and four birdies on his debut in the event.
His superb play left him tied for the lead on five under par with clubhouse leader Mark Leishman but he then made a poor double bogey six at the 12th, dropped another shot at the tough 15th and followed a fine birdie at the 16th with a bogey at the 18th.
Had he parred the last, a three under round might have seemed acceptable to the three-time major champion. But a closing bogey, which came when Harrington bunkered his approach from the middle of the fairway and then two putted from 34 feet, will have done little to make his dinner taste better.
The round was a like a mini version of his performance in the Transitions Championship, where he opened with a 10 under 62 only to fail to break par in the next three rounds.
Technically there appears to be little wrong with the Irish star, who has fallen to 95th in the latest world rankings. There were certainly few signs of the recent putting frailties that prompted him to seek advice from Bernhard Langer at last month’s Masters.
Frustrated by his bogey at the first, Harrington did extremely well to avoid another bogey at the scond, where he overshot the green but holed a five footer for par after a superb recovery.
Still angry with himself for his two opening errors, he missed a 12 foot birdie chance at the third but then caught fire on a perfect day for scoring in light breezes and warm sunshine.
At the 431-yard fourth he hit a perfect tee shot and a 152-yard approach to eight feet and holed the putt to get back to level for the round. Another birdie followed at the par-three fifth, where he appeared disgusted by a 174-yard tee shot than finished no more than nine feet away. Naturally, he rolled in the putt again.
After a regulation par at the sixth, he was furious with himself when he came up 20 yards short when just 169 yards from the pin at the par-five seventh. But his mood changed when he chipped that in for an eagle three to get to three under.
Suddenly on a roll, Harrington birdied the ninth thanks to a wedge to eight feet and then picked up another shot at the 10th with a 148-yard approach less than 12 feet.
Tied for the lead now at five under par, he was briefly joined at the top by Jason Day, who also faded to a 68.
Harrington’s first “hiccup” came at the driveable 11th, where he hit a 51 yard pitch to eight feet but missed the putt. But his round truly came unstuck at the 12th, where he drove into a deep fairway bunker on the right and then hit the lip attempting to go for the green from 173 yards. His ball flew just 63 yards into the right rough from where he overshot the green from just over 101 yards, fluffed a tough pitch as far as the fringe and two-putted from there for a double bogey six.
Suddnely relegated from the joint lead to eighth place on three under, he just missed chances from around 20 feet at the 13th and 14th and then bogeyed the 504-yard, par-four 15th, which is one of the tougher holes on the course,
This time Harrington found the right rough off the tee and missed the green left from 200 yards. Despite a decent chip that ran five feet past the hole, he made a poor effort at the par putt and fell back to two under.
The smile returned to his face the par-five 16th, where he was in sand off the tee but hit his third to 15 feet and aggressively rolled home the birdie putt to get back to the three under.
Then came than bogey at the last. Knowing Harrington, he will probably look at the glass as half full rather than half empty as he searches for his first win anywhere since the Iskandar Johor Open in Malaysia 18 months ago.
Ryan Palmer carded a six under 64 to lead by a shot from Leishman and Alex Cejka with defending champion Keegan Bradley tied for 11th after a three under 67.
Harrington finished his day in a 20-man tie for 24th while Phil Mickelson was unhappy with his putting as he signed for a level par 70 that left him tied for 58th with the likes of Ernie Els.
Harrington confessed afterwards that the missed putt on the 11th killed his momentum and that he took a chance on the 12th only to see it backfire.
He told the Star-Telegram:
“I played seven holes in 6 under par, so it was a nice run,” Harrington said about a mid-round stretch that carried him, briefly, to the top of the Nelson leader board. “It’s just a pity I didn’t finish it off.”
“I like the golf course. I don’t really know it,” Harrington said. “That’s going to catch up with me at some stage.”
“Missing the putt on hole 11 seemed to stall me in the round,” Harrington said. “I made an innocuous double bogey on the next hole and, to be honest, I was just trying to get [to the finish line] after that.”
Harrington, 40, said his troubles began with “a careless tee shot” at No. 12. From there, the two-time British Open champ compounded the situation with “a bad third shot and a bad fourth shot….I should have dropped a shot, maybe. But I was being aggressive. I took a chance.”
“I’m playing great, tee to green,” Harrington said. “I just need to roll it better. I think I’m finding my way with that. I’m just working through it.”