Harrington's freak putts leave Woods in arrears

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The Independent Online

Padraig Harrington really is the most charmingly contrary of fellows. On greens at The Belfry last Sunday that were as good as you are going to get at this stage of the northern European season, he simply could not get the ball in the hole.

Yet yesterday at Gut Kaden here, on greens pockmarked by fusarium disease, Harrington holed every putt he looked at, and a few he did not even bother looking at, to share the lead after the opening round of the Deutsche Bank-SAP Open.

Harrington, who lost to Paul Casey in the Benson & Hedges International to add to his tally of runners-up finishes, returned a seven-under 65, a score that was later matched by Retief Goosen, someone else who has a habit of pipping the Irishman, having won the order of merit for the last two years.

While the European No 1 and No 2 prospered, to lead by two strokes from Darren Clarke and a third Irishman, Peter Lawrie, the best player in the world returned a 69. Tiger Woods is looking to win the event for a third year running, and a fourth time in five visits, and did not drop a stroke on the course where he was beaten by Lee Westwood three years ago.

While the St Leon Rot course in Heidelberg, where the tournament has been played for the last two years, is made for Tiger's game, the oldfashioned Gut Kaden is not such a demanding test. But conditions were not easy. Though it rained only briefly, it was deceptively cold and the wind was a significant factor.

None of this much bothered Harrington despite being short and wayward off the tee in comparison with his big-hitting playing partners, Woods and Angel Cabrera. At the other end of proceedings it was a different matter. "It got to the stage where I didn't bother reading the putts because they were going in whatever I did," Harrington said. That was not the story on Sunday on the back nine. "Golf is strange," he said. "Sunday was one of those days when I putted well but the ball didn't go in the hole.

"You are going to have to live with that on Tour because there are also days when you can do nothing wrong on he greens. Whether I read the line right or wrong, or pulled them or tweaked them, they still went in."

One difference, of course, was that the pressure is on at the end of a tournament, while yesterday Harrington felt perfectly relaxed despite playing with the world No 1. "I was having a look at what he was doing, how he was swinging it. I am not going to go critiquing the world No 1 but it was a good opportunity to take a look. If it was a Sunday, or in a major, you are probably going to keep your head down and concentrate on what you are doing."

Woods said of Harrington: "He's become a lot more consistent. His bad shots aren't as bad as they used to be, and that's what we all try to do."

Clarke, who has been a runner-up twice on this course, played his third shot at the par-five third (his 12th hole of the day) from the bank of a pond with his shoes and socks off and the water almost up to his knees. He put it on the green and holed the putt for the first of five birdies in seven holes.

"It was half-submerged but if there is an opportunity to have a go at it, I'm certainly not afraid of getting wet. But it was slippery and I didn't want to have my considerable bulk any further back in the water. I could imagine the chuckles had I fallen over."

* The Hawaiian teenager Michelle Wie has accepted a sponsor's exemption to play in the Boise Open on the US Nationwide Tour, becoming the first female to compete on the PGA Tour's developmental circuit. The 13-year-old prodigy will be the third female this year to go head-to-head with the men after Annika Sorenstam and Suzy Whaley, who last year qualified for the Greater Hartford Open by winning a PGA sectional tournament from a shorter set of tees.

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