Harrington rides his luck
 Pádraig Harrington got the best out of his game on Thursday. Picture Fran Caffrey  www.golffile.ie

Pádraig Harrington got the best out of his game on Thursday. Picture Fran Caffrey www.golffile.ie

Pádraig Harrington is hoping that his luck might finally be changing after he took advantage of some good breaks to open with a two under 68 in the Honda Classic at PGA National.

The 42-year old Dubliner must win one of the five events he’s planned between now and the Masters if he’s to avoid missing a trip down Magnolia Lane for the first time this century.

But  his opening effort put him in good position, albeit five strokes adrift of at the enormously impressive Rory McIlroy and after escaping serious punishment not once but twice, he certainly wasn't complaining despite missing a few birdie chances coming down the stretch.

“I didn't play so well today but I scored well,” Harrington said after his round as he contemplated giving the driving range a miss. “I haven't been doing that for a while so I am wondering if I should leave it alone. Playing badly and scoring well is a lot better than playing well and scoring badly.

“I thought it was going to be a faction better at the end because I played quite erratically for the first 13 holes and then I played solid enough on the last five.

“For years I'd have played similar and scored the same and come off the course complaining about my game. So it's nice to score well."

After a stuttering start that saw him forced to hole a 10 footer for par at the first and bogey the second, his day was transformed when he hit a three hybrid from 228 yards to eight feet at the third and more importunity, rolled in the putt for an eagle three.

“An eagle does make a big difference to your scorecard on a tough course like this,” said Harrington, who then holed a 30 footer for a birdie at the par-three fifth to get to two under. “It was a bad enough start and you don't want to be giving shots away on this golf course. You don't feel like there are a lot of places to pick them up. I got an opportunity by hitting two nice shots but the bonus was holing the putt after that."

He had his breaks too, coming within a few feet of the water at the ninth and even close to going out of bounds at the 13th.

But while he bogeyed the ninth, he birdied the 12th thanks to a fine wedge to 12 feet and was unlucky not to pick up a shot or two coming home, especially at the tough 17th, where he lipped out from eight feet.

“If anything, I hit a couple of bad three woods off the tee,” he said. “I hit one in the hazard on nine, which is a long way off line and on 13 I was lucky not to be out of bounds.

“Another day I would have been out of bounds and cursing my luck. Outside of that I suppose I am being a bit critical.”

Even after a poor tee shot at the last he managed to give himself a birdie putt but while he could have shot three or four under, he was happy to accept a sub-70 score on what was the toughest course on the PGA Tour last year outside the majors.

“I've been playing better than my scores,” said Harrington, who learned yesterday that he has been given a sponsor’s invitation for next month’s Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill. “Today I scored better than I played which I haven't seen for a while, so I'll take it.

"I need to win to get into the Masters. So I will be thinking about it if I have a chance to win the tournament for sure and trying not to get distracted by it.”