A day after telling punters they would be better off backing him for the Open Championship rather than this week, Padraig Harrington carded his lowest round in the Irish Open at Lahinch.
Making his 24th consecutive appearance in the event, Harrington recorded eight birdies and a solitary bogey to establish a new course record of 63 and enjoy a two-shot lead at the top of a crowded leaderboard.
Eddie Pepperell marked his return from a seven-week injury-lay-off with a 65 to share second place with compatriot Lee Slattery, Thorbjorn Olesen, Wade Ormsby, Mike Lorenzo-Vera and Hyowon Park, with Lee Westwood, Shane Lowry, Martin Kaymer and Ian Poulter part of a large group on four under.
A broken wrist at the end of last year kept Harrington out of action until March and the three-time major champion started the week ranked 291st in the world after missing the cut in three of his last four events.
“Every week feels like my first week out, trying to find my game, but links golf suits me because you can really work your way around,” said the 47-year-old Ryder Cup captain, who shot rounds of 68-78 last year at Ballyliffin to miss the cut.
“I had neutral expectations. I just wanted to take stock of my game and did not expect a 63 but it was a bit of a stroll in the park. I’ve worked a lot harder to shoot 73, that’s for sure.
“It was buzzing out there and it would only be bettered if I did it on Sunday, but if you don’t do something on Thursday you won’t be around for Sunday anyway. All this does is create a number of scenarios where I can go on and win this tournament.”
Lorenzo-Vera had earlier shrugged off the embarrassment of suffering a dreaded shank to post a five-under-par 65 as he chases a first European Tour title in the £5.5million event.
“I am a little bit ashamed of this one but I shanked one on 11, the par 3, like proper shank into huge rough,” Lorenzo-Vera admitted. “I didn’t shank a golf shot for five or six years in a tournament, so that was a bit strange.
“After those kinds of shots you laugh, and I was just trying to make a good bogey there, hit it to around 15 metres and got the bonus to hole the putt.
“I just went to the next tee with a big smile and bombed one down the middle and birdied the next two holes, so that was a big turning point.”
Slattery has missed the cut in 10 of his 13 European Tour events this season, including the last six in succession.
But he raced to the turn in 30 thanks to four birdies in a row from the sixth, and then bounced back from a bogey on the 10th with further gains on the 13th and 16th.
“I’ve not played much golf because I’ve not played the weekend that much so I feel fairly fresh,” Slattery said.
“But I’ve just been very unfortunate, missing a lot of cuts by a shot.
“There has to be a time in the season where you turn it around, especially as hard as I work.”
France’s Lorenzo-Vera revealed a somewhat embarrassing turning point in his 65.
“I’m a little bit ashamed of this one but I shanked one on 11 into huge rough and was just trying to make a good bogey,” Lorenzo-Vera said.
“I hit it to around 15 metres, had the bonus of making the putt and then birdied the next two holes so that was a big turning point for sure.”
Scotland’s Russell Knox is four shots off the lead after beginning the defence of his title with a 67, but Graeme McDowell struggled to a 72.