Phil Mickelson might have horseshoed out for a 59 as he rocketed around TPC Scottsdale in a red-hot 11 under 60 but Pádraig Harrington had him right in his sights - even without glasses - as he had just 26 putts in an opening 64 in the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
Putting like the man who won three majors in 13 months, the Dubliner holed a bunker shot and single putted nine times as he racked up seven birdies to share second place with Ryan Palmer, playing partner Brandt Snedeker, Ted Potter Jnr and Jeff Maggert.
“It’s a nice score, obviously, seven‑under par,” Harrinton said. “It’s a little bit behind Phil but still a nice score in itself. You know, I pretty much got the most out of the round for the first 15 holes and then had three chances the last three holes and didn’t hole the putts. But overall I’ve got a good feeling about it.”
Playing the event for the first time, Harrington knows that his lack of local knowledge is going to be a disadvantage as the week goes on.
“Yeah, I think that’s likely. I still don’t know the course that well. I was hitting a sand wedge into 18, and I was very concerned about not going long, and when I got up to the green, long was the place to hit it, and I’d spun it off the green.
“So I’m going to make mistakes for the rest of the week. I know there’s going to be a couple of errors here and there. Hopefully, as I said, I can keep making enough birdies to counteract that.
“It’s possible there are going to be some shots that are going to be dangerous shots that I don’t realize. Hopefully I’ll get away with it, let’s say, but I’d still prefer to have a bit of local knowledge.
His score looked almost ordinary compared with Mickelson’s, however, as the left-hander produced 11 birdies in a round that included two runs of four-in-a-row and a lip out for 59 at the last. But Harrington won’t mind that.
He admitted in the build up that he was terrible on the greens last year as he struggled to read the line and subsequently made far too many wishy-washy, uncommitted strokes.
He took steps to change that dynamic over the winter, turning to sports eye specialists SV:EYE from Northern Ireland to re-train his vision. Whatever he did, it has certainly worked in the first few weeks of the year.
Starting on the back nine, he holed a 25 footer for birdie at the 11th, chipped and putted for his par-five after finding sand off the tee at the 13th and then holed a bunker shot from more than 70 feet at the 14th to move into the top 20.
He then got up and down from greeenside sand at the 15th, holing a ten footer for his birdie four to move into the top 10 on three under.
Regulation pars at the 16th and 17th were followed by a par-save from just inside six feet at the 18th before he fired a wedge to 10 feet at the 10th and holed that to get to four under.
He then made back to back birdies at the third and fourth, holing from 11 and 20 feet respectively. And while he missed an eight footer for another birdie at the fifth, he fired a wedge to just three feet at the next to get to seven under.
It could have been lower but he two-putted the last three greens for par, missing from just inside 15 feet for birdies at the eighth and ninth.
Mickelson was disappointed not to joined the 59-club. He raised his putter intriumph as it trcked for the middle of the hole - Nicklaus in ‘86 style - then sank as his 30 footer at the ninth do a lap of honour around the rim of the cup and stay out.
“It was a fun day, and I’m excited to shoot 60. But to see that last putt lip out the way it did and not go in, it’s crushing because you don’t get that chance very often to shoot 59,” he said.
“Six feet to go, it was in the center, three feet to go, it was in the center, a foot to go, it was in the center, and even as it’s approaching the hole, I couldn’t envision which side of the hole it could possibly miss on, and it ended up somehow just dying off at the end, catching the lip and at that speed to lip out as much as it did is very rare. It’s unfortunate, but I mean, I’m ecstatic with the round, but man, you just don’t get those opportunities very often, and to see that ball lip out instead of lip in, like I say, it’s crushing.”
His caddie Jim ‘Bones’ Mackay ended up doubled up on all fours on the green in disappointment.
“I just love how Bones lives and dies with the good and the bad, you know, and he’s just‑‑ I couldn’t have a better support system. We’ve had a lot of fun together, and to have a fun day like this to share together was pretty cool.”
“Well, 60 is awesome, and last time I shot 60 here in ‘05 I birdied like the last three or four holes just to do that, and I was ecstatic, and I’m ecstatic to shoot 60. But there’s a big difference between 60 and 59. Not that big between 60 and 61, there really isn’t. But there’s a big barrier, a Berlin Wall barrier, between 59 and 60.
“I shot it in the PGA Grand Slam of golf, I shot 58 in a practice round. But to do it in a tournament would have been historic for me, something I’d always remember, and I’ll always remember that putt on the last hole probably, too.”