Pádraig Harrington put his US Open frustrations behind him when he reeled off a hat-trick of birdies at TPC River Highlands’ feared Golden Triangle to open with a four under 66 in the Travelers Championship in Connecticut.
The three-time major winner birdied the 15th, 16th and 17th in a six-birdie round to end the day tied for 10th and five strokes behind Charley Hoffman, who overcame a broken tooth to make two eagles and five birdies in a nine under 61 for a one-stroke lead over Hunter Mahan.
“I’m very pleased with the score,” said Harrington, who made just six birdies in four rounds at Merion. “I didn’t hit it that well. I got a good start and a few good shots early on then kind of settled in in the middle of the round but hit a few out of bounds.
“Finishing the way I did the last few holes will make my lunch taste a lot better. I’m very happy with the score. Looking forward to a good week. I just keep feeling like I want to hit it better than I did today, but I did hole a few putts at the right time today.”
After struggling to hit his wedges close and make birdies at Merion last week, Harrington got off to a hot start, hitting wedges to five feet at the first and six feet at the second to set up two early birdies.
He had to scramble to save par from just short of the fourth, holing a four and a half footer, but couldn’t do so at the par-three fifth, where he missed the green long and left and could only chip to 16 feet.
After missing a chance from 12 feet at the eighth, he hit a 188-yard approach to four feet at the 462-yard 10th and converted the birdie putt.
A bad drive at the 13th, where he had to chip back to the fairway from the left rough went out of bounds and eventually holed a seven footer for bogey, saw him slip back to one under again.
But he finished strongly, picking up three birdies in the last four holes.
That run began when he holed a monster, 51-foot birdie putt at driveable, 296-yard 15th. He then drained a 20 footer at the 171-yard 16th before hitting a 161-yard approach over water to 13 feet at the testing 17th to complete a hat-trick of birdies and get to four under par.
“This morning it was ideal weather for golf,” Harrington said. “As I said, I made six birdies today, which is as many as I made in all of last week. It’s nice to be a little bit freer, more open. In terms of being relaxed and enjoying it, this is a much nicer week. I won’t say easier, but much nicer.
“I know in the past when the golf course gets warm here, it starts to firm up. You can get off the tee a long way and things tend to get tight, so you’ve got to be very accurate, and you’ve got to make birdies.
“You’ve got some holes coming home that will put you under pressure. Even if you’re leading the tournament, you’re going to have to make some birdies coming down the stretch. You want to be hitting your wedges well on these incoming holes.
“There are a lot of Irish people in these parts, so I always enjoy the crowd turnout that comes to cheer for me. It’s a big advantage of being Irish. You get Irish fans all over the world.”
US Open champion Justin Rose was two over through six holes but eventually carded a 67 to share 18th place on three under.
“I was looking forward to playing today, getting the first round I say out of the way,” Rose said. “I wanted to get back on the golf course. As I said, the announcement on the first tee today, being announced as the 2013 US Open champion, I couldn’t help but smile before I hit my first tee shot.
“I got off to a lovely start today birdieing the first, And then just sort of made a few mental errors early in my round. Speed of the greens and not being that committed to where the wind was and made a few bogies, but it was nice to be patient enough. Obviously, on a day when you see 8s and 9s and 7s where you get off to a slow start, you feel a little bit lethargic.
“But I’ve stayed sort of committed to the same things that worked so well for me last week. That was my goal today, really. Sort of honour the process that went well last week and do myself justice out there.”
Hoffman shot a career-best 61 despite breaking a tooth during breakfast.
He told PGATour.com:
“The tooth broke at THE PLAYERS this year,” Hoffman explained. “I haven’t had time to go home. Got it re‑plastered a couple times, so just going to get it reglued. Nothing major, no pain or anything.”
The PGA Tour also recalled Hoffman’s unfortunate last year and his incredible homeward nine of 28:
Charley Hoffman had a chance to win this tournament last year. He led on the 17th tee but his drive ended up in the water and he then bogeyed the final hole. Despite the bad ending, he came to TPC River Highlands with good thoughts and it’s reflected in his opening-round 61. Hoffman did not have a single 5 on his scorecard. Look how impressive these numbers are on the back nine: 2-3-3-3-4-3-3-4-3—28