Harrington rides his luck as Rory struggles for putting patience
Pádraig Harrington

Pádraig Harrington

Pádraig Harrington admitted that he rode his luck but there was far more to it than that as he posted an immaculate 68 to share seventh place after the opening round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at a benign Bay Hill.

The Dubliner looks confident again following his comeback win in the Honda Classic three weeks ago. And while he missed one four footer, three putting the par five 16th (his seventh) for par, he kept a bogey off his card, unlike world No 1 Rory McIlroy, (70).

Harrington admitted that he had fortune on his side but he crucially took advantage  of it with th best example coming at the  par-five sixth, his 15th, after his approach ricocheted off greenside rocks on the edge of a lake and back into the fairway. 

"I don't think it was as seamless as the card says it was," admitted the Dubliner, who got up and down for a birdie at the par-five sixth, his 15th, where his approach ricocheted off greenside rocks on the edge of a lake and back into the fairway. 

Left with around 50 yards to the pin, Harrington played a fine pitch to pin high and holed the seven footer.

"I got in trouble a few times and got some good breaks," he said, before adding, "and I hit a few good shots as well."

Near windless conditions, soft, generous fairways and slow greens meant that 72 players broke par.

American Morgan Hoffman paid a nice tribute to his grandmother, who passed away overnight, by firing a six under 66 to lead by one stroke from Jason Kokrak, Kevin Na, Ken Duke, John Peterson and Ian Poulter.

"I think it was about as easy as I have seen it," Harrington said of the conditions in Orlando. "There was a little bit of swirling wind but as long as you got the right wind, it was warm, the ball was travelling and the greens were at a pace that you could hole putts. So it was a reasonably easy day at Bay Hill."

Asked what he'd been working on and whether he had no put his Honda Classic win behind him, Harrington said: "I've got plenty of things to work on, but I am not trying to let the Honda win set in. I am still trying to enjoy it. They don't come around as often as you think they should, so when you do get a win, take the plaudits."

Bar one short miss, it was a pain-free putting day for Harrington, who birdied the 18th from nine feet to turn in one under and then picked up three more birdies with putts of 19 feet, 16 feet and seven feet at the first, fourth and seventh.

Rory McIlroy's birdie putt topples in at the 18th

Rory McIlroy's birdie putt topples in at the 18th

But it was torture on the greens for world No 1 McIlroy, who missed just one green all day but had 34 putts in a two under round that required all his patience.

"It could have been much better," said McIlroy, after a birdie at the 18th made up for a six at the par-five 16th where he found water trying for the green in two from the rough. "I was just trying to stay as patient as possible.

"I was hitting a lot of greens, giving myself a lot of chances. But I guess when the greens are like they are you are going to have to stay patient when you hit good putts that don't go in. With some of the putts out there, I didn't trust the reads and I was sort of in two minds quite a lot.

"So I will try to get a little better mentally over the putts over the next couple of days and you never know."

The County Down man's biggest complaint was that he played the par-fives in just level par, which is not what's required at a tough par-70 with four par-fives.

Apart from the bogey at the 16th, he missed an eight footer for birdie at the par-five fourth and followed a two putt birdie from 18 feet at sixth by missing an eight footer for a two at the seventh.

He made amends by rolling in a 17 footer at the eighth but he holed nothing longer than a four footer on the back nine until a 14 footer fell in the front door for a welcome three at the 18th.

"Level for the par fives is not what you need around here," McIlroy said. "It is the sort of golf course where if you can play the par-fives well, it is a big advantage and to play them in even par today wasn't what I was looking for. Hopefully I can do better over the next few days."

Graeme McDowell was happy enough to hit Instagram after a level par 72 that saw him get to two under after eight only to bogey the ninth and 15th. 

Quick decompress after the day. Had fun out there. Left several shots behind but happy with where game is going. #keepgrinding

A photo posted by Graeme McDowell (@graeme_mcdowell) on

Shane Lowry endured a tough day as he made six bogeys and three birdies in a 75 that leaves him with a lot of work to do to make the cut.

Bunkered at the first and in water off the tee at the third, he slipped to two over early but birdied the par-five fourth and sixth to get back to level only to hand those shots straight back wiuth bogeys at the seventh (three-putt) and eighth (force lay up after drive into rough).

two over to the turn, he three putted the 11th to go three over, birdied the 13th thanks to a 113-yard approach to two feet but then missed a good birdie chance at the 14th and found water with his second to the par-five 16th to fall back to three over again.