Harrington hits high note at WGC

Padraig Harrington shot his lowest round of the year to take a two-shot lead at the Bridgestone Invitational in Ohio.

Padraig Harrington shot his lowest round of the year to take a two-shot lead on the opening day of the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational in Ohio.
Seven days before he is due to defend his US PGA Championship title at Hazeltine National and following a year of disappointing results as the Irishman has sought to improve his swing, Harrington shot a six-under-par 64 at Firestone Country Club.
Two weeks after relinquishing the Open title for the first time in three years, Harrington arrived in the United States in extremely positive mood and that translated into an excellent opening round of golf as he opened with a birdie at the 10th hole on the tough, 7,400-yard, par-70 South Course, the first of six in a bogey-free round.
Harrington will take a two-stroke lead into the second round over playing partner Scott Verplank of the USA and early pacesetters Prayad Marksaeng of Thailand and South Africa’s Tim Clark.
England’s Ian Poulter is a further shot behind at three under following a 67, a score matched by Americans Steve Stricker and Zach Johnson, while there were 68s from world number one and six-time Firestone winner Tiger Woods as well as fellow American Hunter Mahan, Australian Robert Allenby, New Zealander Danny Lee and Spain’s Miguel Angel Jimenez and Sergio Garcia.
Open champion Stewart Cink, playing for the first time since defeating Tom Watson in a play-off at Turnberry last month to claim his first major victory, was in a large group at one under that also featured US Open champion Lucas Glover, Players champion Henrik Stenson and two-time PGA Tour winner this year Kenny Perry, as well as English trio Nick Dougherty, Lee Westwood and Oliver Wilson.
Defending champion Vijay Singh, world number two Phil Mickelson and Masters champion Angel Cabrera were in another large group that posted level-par 70s.
Mickelson, returning to golf after taking six weeks off to care for his wife Amy as she began treatment for breast cancer, showed some rustiness with a double-bogey six at his second hole of the day, the 11th, and went out in a three-over 38 only to claw his way back with three birdies on the back nine.
Also at level were England’s Luke Donald and Ross Fisher, who admitted he had come into the tournament short of practice following the birth of his first child, Eve Rose, who was born the Saturday after he had contended on the final day of last month’s Open.
“Hardly played at all to be honest,” Fisher said. “I had two days of practice at home so not as tournament prepared as I would have liked to have been but obviously circumstances have changed at home so that is the way it is at the moment.
“It was a decent start but it was a bit frustrating.
“I felt like I played really good for my front nine but just couldn’t get anything going on the greens, didn’t hole anything.
“Then I hooked a drive up the first almost in the water and hit a shocking three wood into the second and I walked off with a par and a birdie.
“So it was a little bit of a strange day to be honest but level par is a decent start.”
Donald’s playing partner, Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland, finished at three over following a 73, while their respective compatriots Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy, making his debut at Firestone this week, came off with 75s and both will be grateful the tournament, with an 80-man field, has no halfway cut.
That also guarantees Irish debutant Shane Lowry four rounds of golf following an eight-over 78 as he began only his seventh tournament since turning professional following his victory as an amateur in the Irish Open at Baltray in May.
World number three Paul Casey, however, was forced to quit the tournament after only six holes. The Englishman, a three-time winner in 2009, was level par for his round when he teed off at the seventh, immediately clutching his chest as he sent his ball into right rough.
He decided to withdraw soon afterwards, complaining of a pulled muscle in his ribcage.
“Compared to the first six months of the year, it’s obviously my low score of the year, my best score of the year,” Harrington said following his tournament-leading 64.
“The first six months had a purpose, I was working on things and I suppose it’s time now to go and play some golf.
“The last couple of weeks I was getting more focused on my overall game when I was at home than maybe the first six months when I was focused on my swing.”
Having had similar spells in his career when he has taken a step back in order to move forward , Harrington admitted the process this time had been more difficult.
“It’s been a little bit harder. I suppose every little grade gets a little bit tougher as you go along and what really showed up to me this year was that the times I’ve made changes in the past my short game has really been tidy and it’s made sure that you couldn’t really see it.
“My short game has been poor for the first six months of the year and every errant shot I’ve hit on the golf course gets magnified. I wasn’t getting up and down and I didn’t have any part of my game going good in the first half of this year.
“When you’re making a change you’ve got to make sure some of it’s good.”
(USA unless stated, par 70):

64 Padraig Harrington (Irl)
66 Prayad Marksaeng (Tha), Scott Verplank, Tim Clark (RSA)
67 Steve Stricker, Zach Johnson, Ian Poulter (Eng)
68 Danny Lee (Nzl), Hunter Mahan, Tiger Woods, Robert Allenby (Aus), Sergio Garcia (Spa), Miguel Angel Jimenez (Spa)
69 Soren Hansen (Den), Oliver Wilson (Eng), Lucas Glover, Nick Dougherty (Eng), Woody Austin, David Toms, Geoff Ogilvy (Aus), Stewart Cink, Kenny Perry, Sean O’Hair, Boo Weekley, Henrik Stenson (Swe), Lee Westwood (Eng)
70 Jeev Milkha Singh (Ind), Pat Perez, Ross Fisher (Eng), Angel Cabrera (Arg), Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, J.B. Holmes, Justin Leonard, Vijay Singh (Fij), Trevor Immelman (RSA), Camilo Villegas (Col), Luke Donald (Eng), Carl Pettersson (Swe), Gonzalo Fdez-Castano (Spa)
71 Jerry Kelly, Rory Sabbatini (RSA), Retief Goosen (RSA), Darren Clarke (NIrl), Charles Howell III, Thongchai Jaidee (Tha), Anthony Kang, Chad Campbell, Cameron Beckman, Mike Weir (Can), Ernie Els (RSA)
72 Soren Kjeldsen (Den), Davis Love III, Martin Kaymer (Ger), Nick O’Hern (Aus), Alvaro Quiros (Spa), Anthony Kim, Richard Sterne (RSA), Y.E. Yang (Kor)
73 Anders Hansen (Den), Graeme McDowell (NIrl), Mathew Goggin (Aus), Jim Furyk, Gregory Havret (Fra), Stuart Appleby (Aus)
74 Nick Watney, Nathan Green (Aus), K J Choi (Kor), Yuji Igarashi (Jpn), Chih-bing Lam (Sin), Shingo Katayama (Jpn)
75 Christian Cevaer (Fra), Rory McIlroy (NIrl), Justin Rose (Eng), Brian Gay
76 Marc Turnesa
77 Ben Curtis
78 Adam Scott (Aus), Shane Lowry (Irl)