Pride and urgency aren’t always a good thing but Pádraig Harrington showed he has no intention of going gently into that good night when he opened with a scintillating 63 in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Lahinch.
The Dubliner (47) made eight birdies in a sun-drenched, seven-under par round in front of 16,288 fans in Co Clare, finishing the day one stroke clear of the fast-finishing South African Zander Lombard, who birdied four of his last five holes for a 64.
It was a day of glory for Harrington who admits that at 47, he has the gnawing feeling inside that he’s “running out of time” to add further chapters to his storied career.
He made a mockery of his pre-tournament prediction that even at odds of 100-1, punters were better off saving their cash to back him for The Open.
“It was a stroll in the park 63,” he said. “I couldn’t have asked for more in shooting a low one. It seemed easy. It was one of the most enjoyable rounds of my career, on a perfect links.
“I am the worst tipster, ever. When it comes to golf, whoever I pick, yeah, I'm terrible. I'm a Jonah when it comes to things like that. A wise man might have had an each-way bet on me at that. It would have been a big call for anybody to predict that I was going to win it, or come out here and win this week.”
It was Harrington’s lowest Irish Open round in 24 appearances and he knows that he may not have many more chances to win and wants to take advantage of the links swing with the Scottish Open and The Open still to come.
"I am running out of time,” he said. “I can't expect to be 58 years of age and be competitive. Who knows, will be competitive at 51? I'm just saying I can't be pushing it out. I've got to go and play, and that's very much my attitude to these three weeks.”
He has often been accused of believing that tomorrow will never come — forever working with one eye on the distant horizon.
It’s been a pressure release mechanism for him but with the Ryder Cup looming next year, he is painfully aware that the end may be closer that he dares believe and he wants to have no regrets.
“A lot of times, I'm always thinking ahead of myself,” he said. "This is not the case. I don't get opportunities like this, and they are dwindling.”
He’s played just seven events this year after breaking his wrist over Christmas and made just three cuts, his poor play has hurt his pride.
Reminded how he retained The Open at Royal Birkdale in 2008 despite suffering from a wrist injury, he insisted he wasn’t a “wounded beast” physically.
“I think if you want to be beware the wounded beast, I'm wounded mentally, not physically. I think my poor play and poor performances have annoyed me enough that I have a nagging feeling that I'm running out of time to play golf, and I'd better go play.
“In my head, I'm one of the best players in the world. I’m thinking, ‘What am I doing down at 300 in the world?’
“This run of three links courses, I've lived the whole year for this run.
“I can't afford to miss out and come back in three weeks' time and say, hey, yeah, it was a good three weeks, I'm getting ready for six weeks' time.”
His 63 was a thing of beauty and a masterclass in how to play links golf.
He birdied the second despite playing his approach from heavy rough, added a two at the Dell and then followed a great par save from sand at the seventh with five birdies and a bogey in his next six holes.
The pick of them was arguably the 20 footer he made from off the green at the eighth, where there were no fans to cheer him on due to the difficulty of the terrain so he broke into an exaggerated celebration to send out the message that he’d moved to three-under.
After make two more birdies inside eight feet at the ninth and 10th the was tied for the lead.
And while he would fail to get up and down for par at the 11th, he did so brilliantly from sand at the 12th, birdied the 13th from eight feet and then finished with a birdie four thanks to another superb bunker shot.
Lombard (24) sits alone in second after his 64 with England’s Eddie Pepperell in a six-way tie for third with compatriots Lee Slattery and Chris Paisley, Australian Wade Ormsby, France’s Mike Lorenzo-Vera, Korea’s Hyowon Park and Dane Thorbjørn Olesen after five-under 65s.
Harrington heads the 13-strong Irish challenge with Shane Lowry and Ardglass’ Challenge Tour star Cormac Sharvin tied 10th after four-under 66s.
Tramore’s Robin Dawson raced to four-under through 11 holes but bogeyed the 14th, 16th and 17th before finishing with a birdie for an excellent, two under 68.
“If you had offered me 68 on the first tee, I would have taken it,” said Portmarnock Links professional Dawson, who had his strength and conditioning coach and former Irish team mate Peter O’Keeffe on his bag.. “But then again I was four-under through 13 and had a couple of chances coming in as well but it it what it is.”
“You could hear the roars from the course and you could tell it was Padraig,” he said adding with a chuckle, “hopefully it won’t be the last time this week you will see my name on the leaderboard.
“It is always nice to finish with a birdie as well. It was a good test out there and very enjoyable. Hopefully conditions are kind to us and we will see what happens. I feel more comfortable on the European Tour than on the Challenge Tour — a lot more professional in what I do and having Peter on the bag made it a lot more fun.”
As for the rest, Paul McBride, Seamus Power and Brian Casey are just outside the project cut mark after 70s while 71s for Paul Dunne, Darren Clarke, Michael McGeady and Conor O’Rourke and 72s for Graeme McDowell and Gavin Moynihan leave them even more work to do after 67 players broke par and the field averaged .
“It’s weird because I didn’t do anything badly today but I didn’t do anything great,” McDowell said. “I drove it okay but I felt like I was in the semi-rough all day.
“It is a tricky, it’s a little puzzle, that’s a good word to describe it, because you think it is easy and sometimes you are like, it has got some subtle little run offs.
“But I’m going to have a run where I am going to make four or five birdies, it just didn’t come this morning.”