European Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington enjoyed a career-first experience as he made a strong start to the Bermuda Championship.
Harrington was out in the first group of the day for the first time as a professional, playing with Matt Jones and Kelly Kraft, but the early wake-up call spurred him onto a four-under 67, although that was four shots more than leader Peter Malnati.
The Irishman’s score was matched by 2016 Masters champion Danny Willett and Scotland’s Russell Knox on a bright and breezy day at the picturesque Port Royal Golf Club in Southampton.
Harrington raced to five under after a nice run of four birdies in five holes from the sixth, but a wayward drive led to a bogey at the 11th and he then three-putted the 13th green before getting back on track with his sixth birdie of the day at 17.
“First time ever being the first tee time ever in my life, I’ve never been out first on a Thursday or Friday,” said the 49-year-old, who won the PGA Grand Slam of Golf title at the same venue in 2012. “It was nice, I have no problem getting up and get going. You know what, I’ve probably changed over the years.
“If this was 10 years ago I would probably be getting up three and a half hours before my tee time, I would being doing all the physio and training and all sorts of stuff. Now at my age I just get up and I do a few stretches and off. I could go on a much quicker time frame, so I really don’t mind that early tee time.”
Harrington is also welcoming the chance to get some competitive golf in before cutting back on his playing schedule next year to focus on his duties as Ryder Cup skipper.
“Right now it’s very quiet with Ryder Cup duties, so it’s kind of all about me now at the moment,” he added. “Come January 1 and the points start up again, obviously there will be a bit more detail.
“How do I balance it? Basically I’m older and I know I can’t do as much, so that’s it. I just have to take it a little bit easier and not do my old schedule and that kind of suits the Ryder Cup because I’m busy with that.”
Harrington will turn 50 next August and he hinted that he already has one eye on playing on the PGA Tour Champions, although he remains keen to stay active on both the PGA and European Tours for as long as possible.
Asked if he was thinking ahead to playing on the Senior Tours, he said: “I do look at the scores, possibly even before the PGA Tour scores, I look at the Champions Tour scores. I don’t know what that tells you.
“I would play wherever I think I could win and that’s it. So if I don’t think I can win out here, I won’t play here. I’m not here to turn out, I’m here to try and win, and wherever I’m playing, in my head I think I can win.
“I’m kind of aware that you go to the Champions Tour, you don’t come back. I would like to be winning tournaments, but my problem on the regular tour is the length of the golf courses. It’s not distance, it’s holing putts and things like that.
“I have seen a few guys go to the Champions Tour and they seem to have a miraculous cure for their putting. I’m hoping that happens to me. To shoot 20-under par for three rounds on any golf course, you’ve got to be playing well, holing putts, hitting good wedges. So I’ve got to work on a few of my weaknesses.”
Malnati will sleep on the outright lead after a nine-birdie opener, including five in a row around the turn, with his fellow Americans Doug Ghim and Ryan Armour one shot behind after both kept bogeys off their cards in rounds of 64.
Former Ryder Cup star Hunter Mahan made a welcome return to form as he fired a 66, a much-needed confidence boost for a player who was ranked as high as fourth in the world at his peak in 2012, but he has now tumbled out of the world’s top 1,000 and has made the halfway cut only once in his 10 starts the year.
Willett and Knox both mixed six birdies with two bogeys as they joined Harrington inside the top 15, while Henrik Stenson and Luke Donald returned two-under 69s.
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October 30, 2020, 4:00pm
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