Sometimes, you just have to settle for a course record.
With three major wins in his portfolio and St. Patrick’s Day just 48 hours away, Dublin’s Padraig Harrington sank 10 birdies on Thursday in a bogey-free round of 61 that left the Irishman with a three-stroke lead after the opening round of the $5.5 million Transitions Championship.
Harrington closed out a record round at Innisbrook’s 7,340-yard Copperhead layout with birdies on his final three holes, including a 75-foot putt at No. 17 that prompted the 40-year-old PGA Tour veteran to doff his cap to the crowd.
Will Claxton, a rookie who finished 2 over par here in his only 2011 PGA event, had five birdies and an eagle en route to a 7-under-par 64 as a field of 144 golfers was treated to spectacular weather.
Seven players were five shots off Harrington’s torrid pace, including 2010 champion Jim Furyk. Sergio Garcia and defending champion Gary Woodland stood seven shots back at 68.
Harrington, who needed only 22 putts Thursday, waltzed up to a routine 8-footer at No. 11 with visions of 59 dancing in his brain.
"I choked like a dog," said Harrington, who hasn’t posted a PGA Tour victory since 2008, when he won the British Open and the PGA Championship. "I had as easy a putt as you could get, and I got over it and started thinking, ‘If I hole this, I’m 7-under with seven holes to go. I only need to make five more birdies.’"
After his errant putt, Harrington stopped thinking about matching the lowest round (59) ever shot on the PGA Tour.
"It cost me there, but I think I gained," Harrington said. "(The 59) went out of my head after that. I’ll probably never be able to do it, because it really is something. Any player who has ever done it, I put them right up there on a pedestal."
Harrington has admittedly failed to post impressive scores for the past 18 months, but his game is clearly on the upswing.
"Obviously, today is a peak," said Harrington, who shot a 64 in Wednesday’s pro-am, including a hole-in-one at No. 4.
When the scores counted, Harrington rolled in a 12-foot birdie putt on the same green after using a 6-iron off the tee on the 195-yard par-3.
"That’s the same club I holed the day before, so I played it in three shots in two days — that’s OK," Harrington said.
Copperhead again proved to be a forgiving track for 40-year-old Australian John Senden, making his ninth appearance at the event. Senden, who hasn’t won on the Tour since the 2006 John Deere Classic, closed with four birdies in a 66 that matched his best round at Copperhead.
"I like this place," he said. "It’s a fun golf course to play, and I really love coming here. Nine times out of 10 we have beautiful weather, and I’m looking forward to the challenge of the rest of the week."
PGA TRANSITIONS CHAMPIONSHIP
WHEN: Through Sunday
WHERE: Copperhead Course, Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club, Palm Harbor
TV: Friday: Golf Channel, 3-6 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday: Golf Channel, 1-3 p.m. and NBC (News Channel 8), 3-6 p.m.
TICKETS: Available at Publix or online at transitionschampionship.com
COURSE LENGTH, PAR: 7,340 yards, par 71
FIELD: 144 players
PURSE: $5.5 million
WINNER'S SHARE: $990,000