By Brian Keogh
Padraig Harrington. Photo by Golffile
Pádraig Harrington showed he can still mix it with the young guns when he opened with a four-under 67 in the Bermuda Championship and insisted he's not rushing to join the senior ranks next year.
Out in the first group of the day for the first time in his career, Europe's Ryder Cup skipper (49) birdied five of his first ten holes, then followed bogeys at the 11th and 13th with another birdie at the 17th to lie just four shots off the pace at Port Royal Golf Club, the scene of his 2012 PGA Grand Slam of Golf triumph.
Set to play on an invitation in next week's Houston Open, Harrington admits that while he often checks Champions Tour scoring these days, he still strives to remain competitive on the European and PGA Tour before he hits 50 next August.
"I would play wherever I think I could win and that's it," said the Dubliner, whose last win came in 2016. "So if I don't think I can win out here, I won't play here. I'm kind of aware that you go to the Champions Tour, you don't come back."
Tied 15th, he added: "My problem on the regular tour, it's not distance, it's holing putts and things like that. I have seen a few guys go to the Champions Tour and they seem to have a miraculous cure for their putting. I'm hoping that happens to me.”
After not playing for close to seven months due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Harrington returned for the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open last month and rekindled his competitive fire.
He followed a missed cut at Galgorm Castle with a T9 finish in the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open, a T40 in the BMW PGA Championship and a T14 in the Scottish Championship presented by AXA to move up over 100 places in the world rankings to 332nd.
“I think once you're out, it whets your appetite and you want to keep going,” said Harrington, who is playing on an invitation in next week’s Houston Open but does not plan to take more chances with the coronavirus and won’t return until the PNC Father and Son event in Florida at Christmas.
SOUTHAMPTON, BERMUDA - OCTOBER 29: A pin flag is displayed during the first round of the Bermuda Championship at Port Royal Golf Course on October 29, 2020 in Southampton, Bermuda. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
“I've got two tournaments here, I've got an invite next week in Houston, so it was a great opportunity to come and play another two events. I'll probably shut it down then because the fact that I don't want to be flying back and forth at this time. So coming to play the two events is nice. And Bermuda, as I said, I don't think you could be anywhere in the world where you feel safer, like it really is. They’ve done a great job here. I'm sure it's a really nice place at any time, but in COVID times it is a spectacular place to be.
“Look, I would like to play RSM, I would like to play Mayakoba, but flying back and forth, you know, I don't have places to stay so going back home. If they were back-to-back, you know, I would love to be there, but I don't think so. Traveling from Ireland, it's a long way to be in a tin can at this stage, to be dealing with almost 10-hour flights or more and then connections and things. I'm going to have to satisfy myself with this and Houston.”
He added: “Right now it's very quiet with Ryder Cup duties. It's kind of all about me now at the moment. Come first of January and the points start up again, obviously there will be a bit more detail. I think how do I balance it? Basically I'm older and I know I can't do as much, so that's it, yeah. just have to take it a little bit easier and not, you know, do my old schedule and that kind of suits the Ryder Cup because I'm busy with that.”
He will inevitably move to the Champions Tour but knows that winning is never a given, no matter where you play, if your scoring clubs are not working.
“You know, I've always worked on my driving and always try to get more speed, more speed. With the work I've done on my driving, in training I got lots more speed so I can play well within myself on the course. So it's not like I can get 196 ball speed at home, I'm not getting anything near that. At the speeds I'm getting, I'm getting it with a very controlled shorter swing. So it means that on a nice distance, now I hit it straight. The last tournament I played in Europe, I led strokes gained off the tee, which that's never happened.”
On winning he said: “Unfortunately, to win a golf tournament, it requires certain things to fall into place, breaks, this, that and the other. So actually winning, that's nearly outside your hands. All I need to know is that the game I'm playing, if things fall into place, I can win with. I spent the last couple years struggling on cut lines, now I feel like I can be patient and still be in contention on Sunday.”
Johannes Veerman. Picture: Getty Images
Peter Malnati shot an eight-under 63 to lead by a shot from Doug Ghim and Ryan Armour as Seamus Power made three birdies in a 69 to lie 46th.
At the Aphrodite Hills Cyprus Open, Jonathan Caldwell and Cormac Sharvin opened with two-under-par 69's to lie five shots behind England's Mitch Waite and American Johannes Veerman in joint 43rd.
Waite and Veerman shot seven-under 64's on a low-scoring day to lead by a shot from former Ryder Cup players Jamie Donaldson and Andy Sullivan, Scotland's David Drysdale. France's Joël Stalter and Finland's Sami Välimäki in Paphos.