PALM HARBOR, Fla. – With St. Patrick’s Day coming up this weekend, headline writers will be, um, thirsty for a timely angle that can be, er, hung over certain articles.
This one could be way too easy.
After one round of the Transitions Championship, your leader is Padraig Harrington, who posted a course-record 10-under 61 Thursday morning. It wasn't just a course record; it was the lowest score he's ever posted in a competitive round.
Yes, it may indeed be St. Paddy’s Day.
See? Too easy.
It might be the headline writer’s version of a gimme putt, but a Harrington victory wouldn’t be any less of a terrific story – especially with the upcoming holiday. And headline writers aren’t the only ones to take notice of the coincidence, as the Irishman was showered in the dual-meaning phrase by galleries throughout his opening round.
“It is nice that they named the day after me – and if you take the words of the people out there, it actually seems to be a whole week,” he said afterward with a smile. “I get great support. I think there's 60 million people in the U.S. who claim Irish heritage. So every single event I go to, I get great support and it gives them a little to shout this week. … I suppose it's just a little bit more highlighted this week because of the week it's in.”
It hasn’t been Paddy’s day in quite a while. Harrington hasn’t won on U.S. soil since the 2008 PGA Championship and hasn’t won anywhere in the world since something called the Iskandar Johor Open two years ago.
During that time, he has split up with one instructor, started working with a new one and renovated his practice regimen. The result so far has been a lack of strong results – he’s dropped to 90th in the Official World Golf Ranking – but increased confidence with each week.
“It's been a strange last year, but I'm very comfortable where my game is at,” he explained. “I've made a lot of good improvements and ... I'm feeling like things are ready to happen.
“Obviously today it showed the potential. Obviously today is a peak. But we'll wait and see what happens over the next number of weeks. I have a good understanding of my game, let's say, at the moment. So I've been quite comfortable going into nearly every tournament this year.”
On a warm, calm day at Innisbrook’s Copperhead Course, Harrington opened with a 5-under 31 on his front nine, then birdied the 10th hole – and that’s when he knew it could be a special day, with 59 entering his head.
“I was going through my routine to hit, what, a 7- , 8-footer up the hill [for birdie] on 11, which is exactly when it shouldn't go through your head, but that's when it did, yeah,” he said with a laugh. “I'd love to tell you I was so good that bad thoughts didn't get into my head, but unfortunately they do. It cost me there. But you know … it certainly went out of my head after that.”
The truth is, Harrington’s 61 could have been even better, as he birdied only one of the four par-5 holes. His finish left no room for improvement, though.
With 59 out of consciousness, Harrington birdied the final three holes, including a long, winding, uphill birdie putt on the par-3 17th from 74 feet, 11 inches away – you can call it an even 75 – that may have been a personal record.
“It must be the longest putt I've holed on Tour,” Harrington figured. “I would like to tell it you was funneling right up the green and couldn't go anywhere else, but certainly the last 15 feet it was right in the middle of the hole. That's a bonus obviously.”
It was also the key to his success.
For the day, he totaled just 22 putts – including 14 one-putts -- and holed 195 feet worth of putts on the course’s large, sloping greens.
He won’t be able to keep that pace for 54 more holes, but if Harrington just comes close, he could find himself in contention for his first PGA Tour title in four years.
It’s been a long time coming for the three-time major champion – and it could be the easiest headline ever written.
St. Paddy’s Day? It could happen this weekend.