Padraig Harrington took full advantage of his eleventh hour call-up to grasp the lead with a superb five under par opening 66 in the 36-hole PGA Grand Slam of Golf on the Port Royal Golf Course in Bermuda.
The 41-year-old Irishman, winner of 26 tournaments worldwide, holds a two shot advantage ahead of Masters Champion Bubba Watson with US Open champion Webb Simpson one shot further back and defending champion Keegan Bradley trailing after a 72.
Harrington, drafted in to replace injured Open champion Ernie Els, lost play-offs for this title in his Major Championship winning years of 2007 and 2008, and his determination to claim success this time was abundantly clear as he played outstandingly from tee to green in his first competitive round on the Robert Trent Jones Snr-designed 6,845 yards Port Royal course.
“Just the start that I was seeking,” said Harrington, bidding to become only the second European golfer to win the PGA Grand Slam of Golf – Ian Woosnam won in 1991 – in the 30-year history of the event. “But I would have been frustrated by a very good ball striking round in good conditions if I had not made the birdie putts at 14 and 15.
“My short game will have to be a little stronger tomorrow. I need to be sharper with my wedges and hole a few more putts.”
Harrington, who accepted the invitation to compete after second and third alternates Graeme McDowell and Tiger Woods were unavailable, followed a birdie at the long third where he chipped to six feet with a three putt bogey at the next. He struck a great approach to four feet at the sixth and followed that with another birdie at the long seventh to be out in 34.
Watson, who drove the green at the 380-yards fifth and eagled the long seventh, turned in 33 to lead by one but Harrington’s lob wedge to tap-in range at the tenth compared to the American’s bogey swept him ahead. Then Harrington hit a seven iron to 18 feet for a birdie at the 14th and made a putt of similar length for another at the next.
Harrington, however, dropped a shot at the spectacular 235-yards 16th – “close to the hardest and most scenic golf hole we’ll ever play,” he said – where the well-bunkered green is perched high above the turquoise Atlantic Ocean on its own peninsula. “I had to hit a hard draw with a four iron and I was satisfied with where that finished despite not being on the green but disappointed by a poor chip and then two putts,” he added.
Even so he responded in great style by getting up and down from a bunker for a birdie at the 17th where he confidently holed from six feet.
Watson, who mixed five birdies and one eagle with four three-putt bogeys, said: “I left a couple of shots out there. I was not comfortable on the greens. Length is not really an advantage on this course – unless you hit it dead straight!”
Simpson notched three of his four birdies in a homeward 33 and Bradley, who had five birdies, four bogeys and a double bogey, said: “Padraig played very well. If he plays like that again tomorrow then I have no chance – but I’m looking forward to going out and making a million birdies!”
The PGA Grand Slam of Golf, hosted by the Bermuda Department of Tourism, Port Royal Golf Club and The Fairmont Southampton Hotel, features a $1.35 million prize fund with the winner receiving $600,000.