Harrington Takes Early Lead at PGA Grand Slam

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Padraig Harrington has taken advantage of his wild card entry into the PGA Grand Slam of Golf shooting a five-under par 66 to put himself on top of the leaderboard after the opening round.

The PGA Grand Slam of Golf normally features the year’s four Grand Slam champions but an ankle injury forced the withdrawal of British Open champion Ernie Els and he was replaced by three-time major champion Harrington.

Three birdies in the final five holes allowed Harrington to take a two stroke lead into the clubhouse over Bubba Watson who took an early lead but bogeyed three holes in the back nine to finish on 68.

Webb Simpson was third on 69 with Keegan Bradley, another wildcard entrant, fourth on 72.

Harrington was happy to hold the overnight lead but wasn’t overly impressed with the way he played.

”I had a 15-footer at the third and kind of lost my focus a bit on the line and drove it through the line and then hit a bad putt coming back, a terrible bogey,” Harrington said.

“It wasn’t feeling great. You need to be making the birdies at that stage.”

The popular Irishman is making his third appearance in the PGA Grand Slam and is hoping to break through for his maiden victory in the $600,000 event.

“I’ve come close twice in Grand Slams and hopefully it will be that close coming down the stretch this week and it would fall in my favour,” he said.

Harrington said he wouldn’t be overly disappointed if he can’t convert his lead into a victory as he is simply happy to be given the chance to play in the tournament.

“Anytime you can come to this event, it’s fun,” Harrington said.

“The weather was perfect, the fans were great. It was good.”

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Anthony Kim in position to defend his Shell Houston Open championship

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Anthony Kim at Shell Houston Open

Anthony Kim at Shell Houston Open

Course knowledge matters at the Shell Houston Open.

PGA Tour rookie Chris Kirk shot a 3-under 69 on Friday to take a one-stroke lead over defending champion Anthony Kim and 2008 winner Johnson Wagner after two rounds at Redstone.

Kirk was 9 under par, and played his last few holes just as the wind picked up in the afternoon and made scoring more difficult.

Kim and Wagner took advantage of the calm morning conditions and used their background at the course to move into contention. Kim shot a 64, the lowest round of the day, and Wagner had a 67.

“I’ve got very good feelings as soon as I step on the property here,” Wagner said.

Padraig Harrington, first-round leader Jimmy Walker and Josh Teater were two shots back at 7 under.

Organizers groomed the Tournament Course at Redstone to simulate conditions that players will see at the Masters next week, and the set-up lured many of the world’s top players to Houston.

Phil Mickelson (70) and Lee Westwood (72) were part of a large group at 4 under and Ernie Els (72) and Fred Couples (72) were among the players at 1 under.

Kim is trying to become the first back-to-back winner of the event since Vijay Singh won in 2004 and ’05, the last two years it was played at the adjacent Members Course.

The Tournament Course became the host in 2006, and Kim has enjoyed almost every visit.

Before he turned pro, Kim was the only player to break par in winning a collegiate event here in 2006. He tied for fifth in the Houston Open as a tour rookie in 2007 and shot three sub-70 rounds last year to earn his third career victory.

“It helps, knowing I played well before, knowing I made a couple putts when it mattered,” he said. “Some shots I had are similar, some putts I had are very similar, so I try to remember those things, and play off that.”

Kim’s 64 was four strokes better than his lowest round when he won last year.

Starting on the back nine, Kim made six birdies in his first 10 holes, including chip-ins on Nos. 12 and 16. He needed only 22 putts to equal his lowest round since January.

Kim said before the tournament that his swing needed major retooling and that he spent several days working with coach Adam Schreiber on changes. Kim’s gratified that the work is already producing results.

“It feels great to have that feeling of confidence and go out there, make some good golf swings and make a couple of putts after that,” Kim said.

Wagner feels a more emotional connection to Redstone, after earning his first tour victory here three years ago. He needs to win this week to qualify for the Masters, but says next week’s major has hardly crossed his mind.

A Charlotte resident, Wagner ranks the tournament at Quail Hollow near his home and the Houston event as important as any he plays all year.

“There are a few regular tour events that I treat as a major,” he said. “Houston and Charlotte will always be my two favorite events that we play.”

Kirk has some background at Redstone, too. He played for Georgia and competed in the same collegiate event that Kim won in 2006.

“I think he likes this course,” Kirk said. “I shot a bunch of 74s, or so, nothing very memorable.”

Kirk, second on the Nationwide Tour money list last year, birdied two of his last three holes to take the outright lead and make up for a double bogey on the par-5 4th.

“I made one bad swing off the tee, and it wasn’t even really that bad,” Kirk said. “One of those things. No matter how good you’re playing, that kind of stuff happens sometimes.”

Harrington also ran into trouble, after briefly tying for the lead early Friday. He made three straight bogeys on his back nine to fall back, then reached the par-5 8th in two shots to set up an eagle to get back to 7 under.

“I just fell asleep there,” said Harrington, sporting a beard this weekend because he forgot to pack a razor. “I really kind of battened down the hatches for the last couple of holes, trying to not make too many mistakes after I lost my way.”

The average score for the players who started in the morning (71.46) was more than two shots better than the average for the players who teed off later in the day (73.78).

“As that wind picked up, the ground got really firm,” Kirk said. “You had to be a little more careful, really think your way around.”

Former President George H.W. Bush watched the early rounds from a golf cart and greeted Mickelson and Couples as they walked off greens. Bush regularly attends major sporting events in Houston, where he lives.

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Luke Donald adds European flare at World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship in Miami

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Luke Donald maintains European challenge

Luke Donald maintains European challenge

Luke Donald and Padraig Harrington hit water trouble as they went hunting for the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship in Miami.

After a 15 foot eagle putt on the long first had taken Harrington into a share of second spot with Donald, two behind American Dustin Johnson, he was twice in the lake at the 438 yard third.

Even with a 14 foot putt at the end of it a triple bogey seven went on the Dubliner’s card and, with Johnson two-putting the opener for birdie, it was asking an awful lot to come back from that.

At least Donald limited the damage to a bogey after following Harrington into the water with his approach from the rough to the third.

Chasing his second WGC title in three weeks – and one which would take him to second in the Official World Golf Ranking ahead of Lee Westwood – the 33 year old then only just carried the lake at the short fourth.

But a neat up and down saved Donald’s par there and on 11 under and three behind his hopes remained high.

Johnson played the first four in one under, but was caught when Hunter Mahan, the leader after the first and second rounds, had four birdies in the first six and Matt Kuchar had three in five.

On 14 under they were two shots ahead of their compatriot Nick Watney.

Donald was in a tie for fifth with 21 year old Rory McIlroy, the Northern Irishman two-putting the first for birdie and then salvaging a par on the fifth by chipping in after going from fairway bunker to greenside trap.

Scotland’s Martin Laird resumed on nine under, but after making birdie from five feet at the second he bogeyed the sixth before making birdie like Harrington on the seventh. It put both of them on nine under.

Only one behind them in 13th spot was Tiger Woods, who from 30th at the start of the day was at last finding form – too late for this week, but encouraging with The Masters Tournament only three weeks ago.

Woods turned in 34, then birdied the 11th, 12th, 16th and 17th, where his approach ran over the edge of the hole to three feet.

“I felt that as the week progressed this week, I felt like I hit a lot of good shots but then I would get sidetracked there for a little bit, and didn’t really know what the fix was a couple of times,” said Woods after signing for a 66.

“Today, I hit a lot of good golf shots and when I did mis hit one, I knew what the fix was right away, boom and I got right back on my run of hitting good shots again.  That feels good.”

Westwood gave himself a boost too with four birdies in the first eight, but three-putted the ninth and with one to go was five under.

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Camilo Villegas and Padraig Harrington DQ’s under review by USGA

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Camilo Villegas DQ violation under review

Camilo Villegas DQ violation under review

PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem is asking the USGA to review the Rules of Golf after two prominent players were disqualified for rules violations that were reported after they signed their scorecards.

Television viewers called in violations by Camilo Villegas in Hawaii and Padraig Harrington in Abu Dhabi. They were assessed two-shot penalties, but because officials were notified after the round, the players were disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard.

‘TRIAL BY TELEVISION’

Reports of rule violations by TV viewers have gotten Camilo Villegas and Padraig Harrington disqualified from big events in recent weeks.

2011 FARMERS INSURANCE OPEN

The Farmers Insurance Open is the PGA Tour’s first stop of 2011 on the U.S. mainland.

“I just think that there’s a lot of discomfort with this whole situation and questions raised,” Finchem said Tuesday.

He said he is to meet with the USGA Executive Committee next week at its annual meeting, and he has spoken with the European Tour, which he said has joined him in questioning the rule.

Finchem made it clear he is not asking that the penalty related to signing an incorrect card be changed.

He said he wants a “full and thorough review” of the rule, so golf officials can ask if there is a better way to penalize players. One suggestion is to assess the two-stroke penalty even after the card has been signed, provided the player was not aware he had broken a rule.

Regardless of the outcome, tours have a right to set their own rules for a tournament. Finchem, however, has not been in favor of the PGA Tour getting into the business of making rules. He prefers the USGA to handle that.

“I don’t want to assume what our position would be on any piece of it,” he said. “All I’m saying at this point is we ought to have an intelligent, thorough discussion of what we have today and what options might be available to us.”

One suggestion is to simply add the penalty to a player’s score when a violation is discovered and let him keep playing. That could lead to other problems, however. If a two-shot penalty on Friday is not discovered until Saturday, it’s possible the adjusted score could affect which players make the cut.

Villegas reached over to tap down a divot as his ball was rolling back down a slope to that very spot. A TV viewer tried to reach tournament officials, but his e-mail didn’t make its way to Kapalua until after Villegas had signed for a 72.

Harrington opened with a 65 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, one shot out of the lead. A TV viewer noticed that when replacing his ball on the green, the ball moved forward ever so slightly. Harrington later said he knew the ball nudged forward, but he felt it had rolled back to its original spot. He was disqualified the next day.

Finchem said he had been told that without HDTV, it could not be determined that Harrington’s ball had moved.

“Now if you can’t see the ball move in that kind of setting, are you really going to let that go to disqualification? I mean, there needs to be some common sense here maybe in terms of the way these things are,” Finchem said. “So I don’t know whether the rule will be changed. I don’t know what timeframe the final decision will be made by the USGA.

“I feel comfortable given the quality of the people at the USGA today that if we can just get into a room and talk seriously about the options, we ought to be able to give this a very careful review.”

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Edoardo Molinari leads the Volvo Golf Champions in Bahrain

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Edoardo Molinari

Edoardo Molinari

Edoardo Molinari birdied his first six holes and finished with another to charge into the lead at the Volvo Golf Champions in Bahrain.

Resuming only joint 14th after an opening 68, Molinari added a 65 to reach halfway on 11 under par.

That was two in front of his brother and Ryder Cup partner Francesco and also overnight pacesetter Johan Edfors, although the Swede was among the later starters in the second round.

Edoardo was delighted by his position – and also the fact that his brother was in contention. Francesco was a playing partner in the final round when he won both the Barclays Scottish Open and Johnnie Walker Championship last season.

“It’s good fun,” he said. “It was quite windy at first and so it was a great start obviously.

“I quite like funny courses. This is not straightforward – you have to plan your way round and be patient.

“It was a little bit frustrating in the middle. I had a lot of chances and was not putting very well, but it was good to end with a birdie.”

Francesco, the higher-ranked of the two Italians by four spots at 15th in the Official World Golf Ranking, followed up his first day 66 with a 69 and said: “Hopefully I can catch him.”

His wife Valentina is expecting their first child in three weeks time.

Padraig Harrington got further than he did last week in Abu Dhabi when a disqualification followed his opening 65, but the three-time Major winner remained six shots off the pace with a 69.

Edfors bogeyed the eighth, but closed the gap to one with birdies at the next two, while Argentina’s Ricardo Gonzalez went to the turn in 31 and started for home eagle-birdie to be eight under for the day and nine under the tournament.

Sergio Garcia dropped his first shot of the week at the short seventh but three birdies in a front-nine 34 left him still very handily placed at seven under like Paul Casey.

France’s Raphaël Jacquelin, who moved to seven under for the day with the par five ninth still to come, and Edfors made it a three-way tie at the top on 11 under, but the Swede followed with a double bogey six on the 15th.

He instantly dropped to seventh as four players – Casey, Sweden’s Peter Hanson, Spaniard Alvaro Quiros and South African James Kingston – all improved to ten under with the closing stretch yet to play.

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Harrington breaks rule and is disqualified in Abu Dhabi

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Padraig Harrington and Official

Padraig Harrington and Official

Three-time major winner Padraig Harrington was disqualified before the second round of the HSBC Championship after the Irishman was judged to have illegally moved his ball during Thursday’s first round.

European Tour senior referee Andy McFee said Friday that a viewer emailed to say Harrington replaced his ball on the green and, as he took the coin away, his hand moved the ball. Since the ball was not replaced, Harrington incurred a two stroke penalty not reflected on his scorecard.

“The problem is that Padraig’s card for the seventh shows a three, and the fact that Padraig was totally unaware that this ball has moved doesn’t unfortunately help him,” McFee said. “The disqualification is for signing for the wrong score, lower than actually taken.”

He finished with a 7-under 65 and was one shot behind leader Charl Schwartzel.

“You know what? A lot worse things could happen. You could be five ahead going into the last round,” Harrington said jokingly. “It’s an awkward situation. Every time something like this happens, you want to try and gain something from it, learn something from it.”

In May 2000 at the Benson and Hedges International, Harrington led by five shots after three rounds but had failed to sign his first-round card and was disqualified on Sunday morning.

Harrington acknowledged that he touched the ball but felt it hadn’t moved.

“I’m well aware of the ruling on that situation, and it’s happened many times over the years,” he said. “You know, I’m quite comfortable, if you touch a ball and it doesn’t move and you feel it hasn’t moved, it hasn’t moved, and you don’t need to — there is no replacing.

“If you called the referee at that moment in time,” he added, “in all good conscience, I couldn’t have put the ball anywhere else but where it was.”

Harrington’s disqualification is only the most recent to be caused by a viewer.

Earlier this month, Camilo Villegas was disqualified for a rules violation that a television viewer called in after the opening round of a PGA Tour event in Hawaii.

Villegas was chipping up the slope to the 15th green when the ball twice rolled back toward him. The second time, Villegas walked over and casually swatted away some loose pieces of grass in front of the divot as the ball was still moving down the slope.

That is a violation of Rule 23-1 that says, “When a ball is in motion, a loose impediment that might influence the movement of the ball must not be removed.” The penalty is two shots. Villegas opened with a 72, and he also was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard.

“The rules are good, we abide very well, the players love the fact that we apply them,” Harrington said. “We love the standard that we play by. When we have to stick to that, that’s the best thing about our game.”

Harrington did acknowledge that the European Tour might consider modifying the penalty so a player was not disqualified after he “has signed his card and something has come forward that the player could not have been aware about.”

“I’m comfortable with the whole idea that there’s people there watching, and I believe when I’m on the golf course I’m not going to do anything untoward,” Harrington said. “I hope that this many people watch The European Tour. I hope there’s 100 million people watching me play and checking me out. It’s good for the game.”

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Padraig Harrington adopts new role for R & A – just announced

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Padraig Harrington new Ambassador

Padraig Harrington new Ambassador

Two-time British Open champion has become the first “Working for Golf” ambassador for the sport’s ruling Royal and Ancient Club.

The 39-year-old Dubliner, who at Birkdale three years ago became the first European golfer to make a successful defense of the Claret Jug since James Braid in 1906, will be promoting the work of the St. Andrews-based governing body on his travels. He also won the 2008 PGA Championship at Oakland Hills.

“Padraig is a role model in the game and when he offered his time to support our golf development and rules education activities, we recognized the potential to reach the widest possible audience,” said R&A Chief Executive Peter Dawson. “His active involvement in golf’s bid to rejoin the Olympic Games was an important factor in our success in what is a key development for the future growth of the game.”

Harrington, along with Matteo Manassero, Michelle Wie and Suzann Pettersen, spoke at the bid presentation to the International Olympic Committee two years ago, and golf will return to the Games in Brazil in 2016 after an absence of more than a century.

In his new role, he will coach young people in R&A-funded golf development programs, appear in Rules of Golf multi-media productions, promote the etiquette of the game, take part in biomechanical equipment testing sessions and support the work of the R&A Foundation.

“The R&A has been a constant feature of my development in the game, from playing in boys and amateur events through to winning the Open Championship,” Harrington said. “I appreciate all the guidance and opportunities they provided along the way. I am delighted to have this opportunity to give something positive back to the game, particularly in those countries around the world where golf is still in its infancy, introducing boys and girls to golf so they can benefit from the values that the game teaches you.

“I am constantly amazed at how much the R&A do for the game worldwide from development to the rules, etiquette and other areas,” he added. “The more I learnt the more I wanted to get involved in their work and, given that I play a global schedule, I am well-placed to assist on various projects around the world.”

In his first act as an ambassador, Harrington announced the R&A’s continued support for grassroots development programs in Ireland, worth about $300,000 over the next three years.

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Lee Westwood behind Francesco Molinari by one shot in final round of World Golf Championships – HSBC Champions

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Francesco Molinari

Lee Westwood admits Francesco Molinari “will be tough to hunt down” during the final round of the World Golf Championships – HSBC Champions as he remained one shot adrift of the Italian in Shanghai.

Both players shot five under par rounds of 67 to see the Italian move to 14 under for the week at Sheshan International and pull the leading duo clear of the chasing pack.

Having been separated by the finest of margins all week, it was little surprise when The Ryder Cup teammates both birdied their opening hole.

Westwood was briefly level after his 27 year old playing partner dropped a shot at the fourth, but Molinari responded with a birdie at the fifth to restore his advantage before both players gained a stroke at the par five eighth.

While 37 year old Westwood was producing a bogey free round, Molinari’s card was more varied as he birdied the tenth only to then bogey the 12th before holing his seven iron approach at the 13th for eagle – a shot he later described as “probably the best of the day”.

Westwood responded with birdies at the 13th and 15th to keep the deficit to one, and at the 16th the reigning Race to Dubai champion should have pulled level.

He attempted to drive the green at the short par four, and despite missing the putting surface was able to chip his second to three feet.

Molinari had a ten foot putt just for par at that stage and there was even the prospect of a two-shot swing giving Westwood the lead, but while the Turin golfer bravely holed out the World Number One missed.

Both players then birdied the par five last, Molinari’s improved form with the putter continuing with an eight foot downhill effort while Westwood chipped his third shot to within 12 inches.

Molinari said: “It was a bit of a rollercoaster for me because I hit some really good shots and some not so good shots. I think I showed today that my short game is improving and I’m happy the way I chipped and I putted.

“Sixteen was a really tough moment and it was really good to hole that par putt. Finishing like that is really good because it keeps me in the lead going into tomorrow.”

Westwood was delighted to have put together three excellent rounds on his return from a calf injury, having come into the week with “no expectations”, despite being the new Word Number One.

“That’s probably the best I’ve played all week, played really solidly today,” he said. “I missed a few chances on the greens but made a couple of nice putts as well.

“I think 67 is a good score, I didn’t make a bogey. It shows a good quality of golf when you only make two bogeys over 54 holes.”

Westwood’s compatriot Luke Donald played himself into the final group for the closing round with a bogey-free 68 which left him ten under for the week – four shots off the pace.

And with Ross Fisher, Ernie Els and Richie Ramsay tied for fourth two shots further back, the top six comprised entirely of European Tour Members.

Meanwhile Ireland’s Padraig Harrington carded the tournament’s first albatross on the par five 14th.

“I’ve never had an albatross before so obviously that was the shot of the day for me,” said the three-time Major winner.

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