Tiger Woods overshadowed playing partner Rory McIlroy but Padraig Harrington stole the limelight by taking overall command early in Thursday's opening round of the Barclays tournament in Farmingdale, New York.
Wielding a red-hot putter, Irishman Harrington covered his final nine holes in a blistering six-under-par 29 to card a seven-under 64 in the first of the PGA Tour's four lucrative FedExCup playoff events.
In pursuit of his first victory on the U.S. circuit since the 2008 PGA Championship, Harrrington piled up eight birdies and a lone bogey to finish a stroke in front of Americans Nick Watney and Brian Harman.
Spaniard Sergio Garcia, who ended a four-year title drought on the PGA Tour by winning the rain-delayed Wyndham Championship on Monday, opened with a 66 while Woods returned a 68 and McIlroy a 69.
Harrington, who also has one eye this week on earning a spot on the European Ryder Cup team, was delighted with his putting on the challenging, 7,468-yard Bethpage Black layout.
“I've been playing well for quite a while, but this is the best I've putted, the best I've struck my putts, the best I've rolled the ball for a long period of time,” the 40-year-old Irishman told reporters after taking only 26 putts.
“We had super conditions today. It was perfect for playing golf. Bethpage is a big, strong golf course, and we got it on a very calm day, which was in our favour.”
Harrington conceded he had learned a valuable lesson about the scoring possibilities at a venue which has staged two U.S. Opens from his American playing partner Troy Matteson, who eagled the fourth hole.
“Wow, an eagle! Imagine making an eagle at a U.S. Open,” smiled Harrington. “If anything, it really helped me because I could see that, 'Hey, this wasn't a U.S. Open, there were birdies to be made.'
“So you have to get out of that mindset because level par isn't winning the tournament this week. It isn't a U.S. Open,” added the Irishman, who won The Barclays at Westchester in 2005 and tied for second at Liberty National in 2009.
Woods, a triple winner on the 2012 PGA Tour who led the FedExCup standings coming into this week, expressed mixed views about his round after failing to make the most of soft, receptive conditions on a benign morning.
“I'm all right,” said the 14-times major winner who was followed by huge crowds as he launched his title bid in the company of world number one McIlroy and 2007 Masters champion Zach Johnson.
“I didn't quite hit the ball as well as I would like. I'm going to do some work this afternoon and work on a couple things that I know I need to shore up for tomorrow.
“But I'm very pleased with the way I putted. I putted great today.”
Woods, who totaled 28 putts, ended the round level with Johnson, four-times major champion Phil Mickelson and Britain's former world number one Luke Donald.
Northern Irishman McIlroy, who clinched his second major title with a stunning eight-shot victory at the PGA Championship earlier this month, was satisfied with his opening 69, despite losing momentum after the turn.
“Yeah, it was good,” the 23-year-old said after mixing five birdies with three bogeys. “I thought I played really solid, especially starting off, three under through six. I hit a lot of great tee shots and a lot of good approach shots, as well.
“Sort of got a little quiet around the middle of the round, and my short game let me down a couple of times. It definitely could have been a few shots better, but I'm happy with how I played.” – Reuters