Harrington has home fans in a frenzy on way to course-record 63
As the brother of a bookmaker, Padraig Harrington should know plenty about odds and the value in picking value outsiders. Yet when he was told by friends that they had backed him at 100-1 for this week’s Irish Open, he laughed.
“You should have waited until the Open up in Portrush in a fortnight’s time,” Harrington told them. “I might have played myself into a bit of form by then.” Hopefully, Harrington’s pals did not rip up their betting slips, because with a course-record 63 at Lahinch, the 48-year-old ranked 291st in the world is the first-round leader with a two-shot cushion.
This is his lowest round in 24 years of playing his national championship and with the sun beaming on the Co Clare links and the crowd out in huge numbers – most of them following Harrington, it seemed – it was a great Thursday sight.
“If only this was Sunday,” Harrington said with a laugh to playing partner Ian Poulter (66) as they walked off the 18th green to rapturous applause. In fairness, little in Harrington’s recent results pointed to him staging this seven-under masterclass, with four missed cuts in his last five events. Appointed Europe’s Ryder Cup captain in December, he came into 2019 not only with other things on his sometimes complex mind, but also recovering from a broken wrist that was to keep him out until March.
Yet, something happens to this two-time Open champion when he is by the seaside. “I didn’t know what to expect because I haven’t played much due to the wrist problem,” Harrington said.
“But I love links golf and I got back into the groove of playing this type of game much quicker than I could have imagined.”
The highlight came on the eighth when he holed from off the green with an outrageous curling effort. Surely pandemonium would follow? However, with the galleries unable to get within 50 yards of the tucked-away green, there was only silence. Harrington took off his hat and whipped up the fans into a frenzy they were never to shake off all afternoon.
“It’s funny, I encouraged them to cheer there on the front nine, and ended up trying to calm them down,” Harrington said.
On five under par stand a group including England’s Eddie Pepperell and Lee Slattery, while Lee Westwood joined fellow veteran Poulter on four under, courtesy of four birdies in his last six holes.