Padraig Harrington is not Oliver Wilson or Tom Lewis but considering his results crisis he could interpret their presence at the top if the leaderboard as a sign that the bad days don’t last forever.
After opening with a four over 76 at Carnoustie in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship - undone by another double bogey seven and a couple of closing bogeys in a 31-putt round - the Dubliner ended the day tied for 154th in the 167-strong field and has a mountain to climb to finish in the top 60 who make the cut after Saturday’s third round.
Set to skip the Portugal Masters so he arrives on time in Bermuda on Monday for his defence of the PGA Grand Slam of Golf, Harrington could fail to qualify for the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai as he’s not yet sure if he will be eligible for any of the Final Series events in China or Turkey.
Back with the short putter again, he bogeyed the ninth and birdied the 10th before taking a double bogey seven at the par five 12th, where he lipped out from no more than three feet for bogey.
He then bogeyed the last two holes for a 76 and will need to excellent round at Kingsbarns and St Andrews to avoid his seventh missed cut from his last nine starts - a run that began at the Irish Open at the end of June.
At the top of the leaderboard Lewis and Wilson were amongst a five-strong group setting the early pace on an unusually benign opening day.
The English duo, who are both on the comeback trail after enduring testing times of late, shot rounds of 64 to share the lead on eight under par with their compatriot Richard McEvoy, France’s Alex Kaleka and Chile’s Mark Tullo, all of whom were competing at St Andrews.
Jamie Donaldson shone brightest at the third fabled venue hosting this week’s US$5 million showpiece, the Welshman taking advantage of the calm conditions at Carnoustie to post a seven under par round of 65.
Wilson, who has a brace of top five finishes to his name on the Challenge Tour this month, is slowly returning to the sort of form which earned him a place in Europe’s team at The Ryder Cup in 2008.
The following year, he came second in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship – one of nine runner-up finishes on The European Tour – but has since struggled to maintain his momentum, losing his playing privileges in 2011 and subsequently dropping down to the Challenge Tour in a bid to rebuild his confidence.
But the 33 year old was back to his best at Kingsbarns, notching six birdies and an eagle three at the par five third hole to sign for his lowest round of the season.
Wilson said: “I’m playing a lot better. For the first time in probably over a year, I have some control over my shots and am able to trust my swing under pressure. I’m driving the ball way, way better, which is essentially the part of my game that had disappeared. I wasn’t able to get it on the fairway, so I was really in trouble. But hopefully that’s all behind me now.
“I just have to keep playing well. If I keep playing well, it’s only a matter of time before I get to I where I want to be. The game is improving all the time, and everything’s settled and moving in the right direction again. So it’s nice, because it’s been quite a while since I’ve seen my name up in lights.”
Lewis, who is in danger of losing the card which he secured in such spectacular fashion with his victory at the Portugal Masters two years ago, has got into the frustrating habit recently of fading after an initial bright start.
But the 22 year old, currently in 155th place in The Race to Dubai, is hoping that the rotation of courses will help get him into the mindset of treating every day like a Thursday.
He said: “I’ve been very solid recently on the first day, then Friday has been my enemy. If I can try to get away from that this week, I’ll be fine. For me, maybe trying too hard is something I’ve been guilty of, and playing three different courses might just help me, because I can forget what I’ve done the day before and expect different things.
“Overall, I think I’m a better player now. Obviously winning so early [in Portugal] helped me compete at the top level, but at the same time it probably hurt me as well because I expected too much, too soon. I’m learning, and it’s a shame that I haven’t performed better over the last couple of years but when I get back to the top, I’ll be ready for it – whereas before I probably wasn’t.
“I’ve felt like giving up at times, but you’ve got to stick with it. It’s a very good job, but it’s also tough, especially at the level the guys are playing at here. I’ve been through tough times and been upset a lot, and it’s been probably the hardest two years of my life. But I’ve come out of it a stronger person and a better player.
“It might not happen for me at the end of the year; but if it does, then great. If it doesn’t, it’s not the end of the world. Obviously I’d be very disappointed, but I’ve learned a lot in the last couple years and I’ll move forward from here, and things will happen in the future when the time is right.”
Kaleka (126th in The Race to Dubai), McEvoy (171st) and Tullo (114th) are also all in danger of losing their European Tour cards, but the trio enhanced their prospects of surviving the end-of-season cull with superb rounds of 64 at the ‘Home of Golf’.
Ireland has two players in the dangerzone with 109th ranked Peter Lawrie tied for 127th after a one over 73 at Carnoustie and 110th ranked David Higgins tied for 106th after a level par 72 at Kingsbarns.
Shane Lowry (Kingsbarns) and Michae Hoey (Carnoustie) lead the Irish challenge after four under 68s with Simon Thornton (Kingsbarns) and Darren Clarke (Carnoustie) posting 69s.
The rest of the Irish are outside the top 60 though Paul Ginley will be pleased enough with his 70 at Carnoustie where Damien McGrane shot 75 to lie 149th.
Gareth Maybin is tied for 106th after a level par 72 at Kingsbarns.