It was a a day to forget for Paul Dunne and Michael Hoey but Padraig Harrington, a five under 66 might be enough to keep him interested in the European Tour season-ending events.
The three time major winner is planning to miss the European Tour’s Final Series if he fails to win this week’s Portugal Masters and concentrate on the last three in the US as he seeks a Masters return.
The Dubllner, 45, is 159th in the world and he wants to make the Augusta National and US Open (Erin Hills) fields next year after missing out this season and he knows his fastest route is via a PGA Tour win in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas, the OHL Classic at Mayakoba in Mexico or the The RSM Classic at Sea Island Resort in Georgia.
After opening with a 66 that was good enough a share of 12th in birdie fest at Victoria Club de Golf in Vilamoura, he told Sky Sports: “You have to choose what’s going to make you play the best in the majors. At the moment I need to get in to the top 50 in the world to get in to the Masters, but if I won one of the last three in the States I’d get into Augusta.”
Harrington does not qualify for the HSBC Champions but he’d get a start in the Turkish Airlines Open and might make the field for the extended Nedbank Golf Challenge in Sun City.
“If I won here (in Portugal) I could move myself up in to the top 50 and doing something in those events that’s worthwhile,” he said. "There’s no point in me just turning up to make up the numbers.
"If I won here then I'd definitely play the ones in Europe, but if I don't I'll go and play those three in the States. My form is pretty good, so if I could manage to win one of them and get in to the Masters that would be a huge bonus."
Harrington made a fast start to his week in Portugal, opening with three consecutive birdies on the back nine before chipping in for an eagle two at the driveable 15th.
He then birdied the par-five 17th to be six under after eight holes but played the last 10 holes in one over par for a five-under 66 that left him three behind Scotland’s Marc Warren.
“Obviously I got a very quick start,” he said. "Played okay after that. Missed a couple of putts, a couple of three-putts. Felt like I should have done a little bit better after that but 6-under after eight, I certainly got a few breaks in that. I suppose overall, a five-under return is probably a fair return for the day.”
At 101st in the Race to Dubai with the Top 111 keeping their cards, Dunne all but has his playing credentials wrapped up though a missed cut would leave him wondering if 11 players could possibly overtake him.
That looks unlikely, even after a scrappy two over 73 featuring a bad start and a bad finish left him tied for 107th with Hoey, four shots outside the projected cut mark.
Dunne bogeyed his second hole and double the next to be three over par. And while he got back to one over with three to play, he handed those shots back with two bogeys in his last three holes.
While there were some great rounds by a plethora of players well behind him in the Race to Dubai, only three would overtake him if the tournament ended now.
Eddie Pepperell and Mikko Korhonen shot 65s to share second, and 68 shooter Eduardo de la Riva could also go above him if he missed the cut.
And even though Oliver Fisher, Pelle Edberg, Chris Hanson, Daniel Im, Paul Peterson, Florian Fritsch, Scott Jamieson and Ben Evans could also leapfrog him, he'd still be safe on the first round results
As for Hoey, the 35-year old now needs a miracle to keep his card for a ninth successive season.
A five-time former winner, he must finish solo second at worst to keep his card and as he's already nine shots behind those in second place, he may be resigned to his fate.
Warren capitalised on a blistering start to take a one-shot lead after the first round of the Portugal Masters in sun-kissed Vilamoura.
When the Scot began his round with six straight birdies, the talk of a potential 59 on the rough-free layout at Victoria Clube de Golfe looked like it may be proved correct, but a bogey on the seventh stalled the momentum as he went on to make three further gains in an eight under par 63.
Warren is safe at 67th in the Race to Dubai, but other players in the field are fighting for their lives and none more so than Eddie Pepperell, who holds the 110th spot – with the top 111 players keeping their cards come Sunday night.
The Englishman made a mockery of the pressure of his precarious position by firing a 64 – which included four birdies and an eagle immediately after the turn – to sit a shot off the lead alongside countrymen Matthew Baldwin and Callum Shinkwin, Finn Mikko Kornhonen and American David Lipsky.
Korhonen needs to finish in the top 26 to have a chance of keeping his card this week, while nothing but a top two finish will do for Baldwin.
Swede Jens Fahrbring also needs to finish in the top two, and he was on six under alongside Spanish duo Alejandro Cañizares and Nacho Elvira, England’s Chris Paisley and Frenchman Edouard España.
Home hero Ricardo Gouveia delighted the locals with an opening round of 66 – the same score as Harrington and England’s Oli Fisher, currently 114th in the Race to Dubai and in need of a strong showing to retain his playing privileges.
“I think I’ve had six or seven birdies in a row, but never at the start of the round so it was the perfect start. Everything was going right for me, I was landing it close and had a couple of tap-ins, so it wasn’t like I holed any long ones.
“A poor three-iron from the middle of the fairway on the seventh put an end to the run. But it probably wasn’t a bad thing, it was a bit of a reality check and I played pretty solid after that. I didn’t actually drive it that well, but apart from that the rest of my game was very good. So if I can drive the ball better tomorrow, hopefully we can have another good day.”
“It was a lot of fun, especially around the turn. I started making birdies, and my caddie turned to me on the tenth and said ‘eight birdies and an eagle on the back nine please’ – and at one point that was a possibility.
“I just got into a groove. I was struggling early on with my swing a little bit, but I knew the way I had been hitting it in practice that if I just found one thing, good stuff would come of it – and so it did. So I’m really pleased with that round. For nine holes on that back side, that’s as good as I’ve played for a long while.”
Round One Scores
63 M Warren (Sco),
64 E Pepperell (Eng), C Shinkwin (Eng), D Lipsky (USA), M Baldwin (Eng), M Korhonen (Fin),
65 A Cañizares (Esp), J Fahrbring (Swe), N Elvira (Esp), C Paisley (Eng), E España (Fra),
66 R Jacquelin (Fra), Pádraig Harrington (Irl), L Jensen (Den), R Gouveia (Por), G Coetzee (RSA), O Fisher (Eng), J Lagergren (Swe), P Lawrie (Sco), R Evans (Eng), B Evans (Eng),
67 T Aiken (RSA), P Meesawat (Tha), A Sullivan (Eng), A Noren (Swe), S Gallacher (Sco), L Bjerregaard (Den), T Fleetwood (Eng), B Rumford (Aus), P Peterson (USA), R Paratore (Ita), A Hansen (Den), M Siem (Ger), N Colsaerts (Bel), S Dyson (Eng), R Rock (Eng), P Waring (Eng), J Walters (RSA),
68 C Hanson (Eng), M Carlsson (Swe), G Storm (Eng), D Im (USA), J Hansen (Den), R Dinwiddie (Eng), M Southgate (Eng), D Horsey (Eng), P Hanson (Swe), M Kieffer (Ger), J Scrivener (Aus), J Carlsson (Swe), E De La Riva (Esp),
69 N Fasth (Swe), D Brooks (Eng), M Ford (Eng), M Manassero (Ita), J Robinson (Eng), J Campillo (Esp), A Wall (Eng), K Broberg (Swe), D Drysdale (Sco), A Quiros (Esp), T Pieters (Bel), T Fisher Jnr (RSA), J Quesne (Fra) , J Parry (Eng) , S Khan (Eng) , S Jamieson (Sco) , S Gros (Fra) , T Olesen (Den) , N Bertasio (Ita) , ,,,,,,,
70 Y Yang (Kor), F Fritsch (Ger), P Edberg (Swe), B Hebert (Fra), L Nemecz (Aut), C Berardo (Fra), J Ramos (Por), H Porteous (RSA), D Gavins (Eng), S Webster (Eng), A McArthur (Sco), D Howell (Eng),
71 M Foster (Eng), R Davies (Wal), F Aguilar (Chi), R McEvoy (Eng), T Lewis (Eng), T Linard (Fra), J Winther (Den), M Lundberg (Swe), R Ramsay (Sco), P Larrazábal (Esp), R Karlsson (Swe), G Boyd (Eng), L Slattery (Eng) , M Madsen (Den) , B Virto (Esp) , J Morrison (Eng) , J Hugo (RSA) , ,,,,,
72 E Molinari (Ita), S Manley (Wal), G Havret (Fra), G Stal (Fra), D Dixon (Eng), B Åkesson (Swe), L Canter (Eng),
73 Michael Hoey (Nir), F Laporta (Ita), J Olazábal (Esp), P Figueiredo (Por), H Santos (Por), Paul Dunne (Irl), R Wattel (Fra), C Lee (Sco),
74 R Green (Aus), R McGowan (Eng), A Otaegui (Esp), P Oriol (Esp), P Lencart Silva (am) (Por), T Silva (am) (Por),
75 R Kakko (Fin), J Carlota (Por), J McLeary (Sco),
76 T Cruz (Por), O Wilson (Eng),
78 J Busby (Eng).