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Padraig Harrington shows he’s still got major game

Padraig Harrington uses rangefinder at 2021 PGA Championship
Padraig Harrington, with caddie Ronan Flood at his side, sights another solid round at a major championship as the Irishman opens with a 2-under 70 on Thursday in the 103rd PGA at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course.

Ireland’s 3-time major champion shoots 2-under 70, forgoing any Ryder Cup captain’s duties to focus on 1 more shot at big-time

KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. – Leaderboards often are filled with surprises after the first round of a major championship. So, the sight of names such as Aaron Wise, Sam Horsfield and Talor Gooch among the likes of Brooks Koepka, Gary Woodland, Collin Morikawa and Paul Casey on Thursday here at the 103rd PGA Championship was not astonishing.

However, one name might have been more unexpected: Padraig Harrington.

With three major victories – 2007 and 2008 British Opens and the 2008 PGA Championship – among his 18 combined titles on the PGA and European tours, the 49-year-old Harrington has been among the world’s best golfers for years. However, the Irishman has not won since the 2016 Portugal Masters, and he hasn’t had a top 10 in the U.S. in five years.

Add the fact that his tuneup for this week was a missed cut last week at the AT&T Byron Nelson, and his spot on the leaderboard, three shots behind Canadian Corey Conners, could be the beginning of an amazing story over the next three days. (For scores, click here.)

“I like this golf course,” said Harrington, who tied for 18th in the 2012 PGA here. “Perfect conditions for me to compete in, so yeah, I've given myself the task this year just to try and concentrate on. This is kind of the last roll of the dice for these events, so I've given myself the chance to get myself mentally in place as I would have done back in my heyday and not worry so much about the physical side.”

Not much in Thursday’s first round challenged Harrington physically. He made only two bogeys. The first came on an uphill three-putt at the par-4 10th, which he described as “pretty bad.” The next, at the par-5 16th, occurred after he hit what he thought was a perfectly struck 7-iron that was drawing into the pin but flew over the green.

During the rest of the round, Harrington played what he described as a bit tentatively on the greens and a little defensively with his shot selection.

“I think we got a good draw,” Harrington said of the afternoon weather. “[The wind] certainly dropped a little bit, and when it warmed up, it even got better. I had 195 [yards] into the pin on 18, and like yesterday we would have been trying to get a 4-iron there. Today, we were hitting 6.”

Though playing professional golf remains his day job, Harrington also holds a part-time gig as Europe’s Ryder Cup captain. Because it’s still four months until the biennial matches at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin, Harrington is still taking a hands-off approach to his team. He knows that his potential players need to compete, and he does, too.

Harrington is focusing on his own game and preparation this week and not organizing anything for his potential Ryder Cup players during a major championship.

“But I am taking more time when I see players to sit down with them and chat and just be relaxed and comfortable,” he said. “It's not formal at this stage. Those guys just need to play golf.”

Few major-championship course set-ups would seem to fit a 50-year-old’s game, but Phil Mickelson, Harrington’s playing competitor, also shot 70. He did it with a 4-under 32 on the back nine, showing Harrington that it’s still possible.

Harrington said his pairing with Mickelson and Jason Day, all former PGA champions, was a good one for him. Harrington and Mickelson talked about the Ryder Cup while both posted under-par scores on one of America's most difficult courses.

Now, Harrington needs to build on his first-round play for Friday’s second round.

“You play in the bigger draws, you tend to play better,” Harrington said. “It's an ego thing, and that's just the way it is, so I was happy that I was comfortable out there and played my golf.”

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