Padraig Harrington overcomes 'niggles' to have leaders in sights in Senior Open

Padraig Harrington, who is already lurking ominously on the Senior Open leaderboard after the opening circuit at Gleneagles, may still look and play like a main tour player but he’s no different to most other golden oldies.

Padraig Harrington tees off at the third in the first round of The Senior Open Presented by Rolex at Gleneagles. Picture: Mark Runnacles/Getty Images.
Padraig Harrington tees off at the third in the first round of The Senior Open Presented by Rolex at Gleneagles. Picture: Mark Runnacles/Getty Images.

“I have a lot of different niggles and things like that,” reported the Irishman after carding a four-under-par 66 on the King’s Course to nestle himself close to the lead in the Rolex presented $2.75 million event at the Perthshire venue.

“That’s what you get when you’re trying to be a Ferrari and not an old Volkswagen Beetle,” he added, smiling, when asked if those niggles were simply down to age or had been self-inflicted bearing in mind he has long been regarded as one of the hardest-workers in the game.

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The three-time major winner no longer does any running as part of his fitness regime. “I did my knee while running on a treadmill at the start of Covid,” he reported. “I can't bend down when I'm reading the putts, although it doesn't affect my golf.”

Jerry Kelly plays his second shot at the third hole at Gleneagles. Picture: Mark Runnacles/Getty Images.

As he showed when winning the US Senior Open last month, but, while he may have led the driving distance in that event by 30 yards, the 50-year-old is battling other ailments.

“The other ones I’ve had throughout my career,” he added. “I’ve had operations and all sorts of things. When you get to 50 years of age, you’re going to have these things and, when you get to 50 and you 're thinking you’re 20, you’re definitely going to have them.

“I have got to be careful I don't overdo the practice. A lot of my injuries came from practising after rounds when you’re tired. You lose your posture and things like that. I see it now when my finish to rounds is not very good.

“Whether that’s a mental thing I don't know. But I lose a little bit of my posture as I get tired. These are the things you have to put up with when you are no longer a spring chicken.”

Stephen Ames in action in the first round of The Senior Open Presented by Rolex on the King's Course at Gleneagles. Picture: Mark Runnacles/Getty Images.

Stephen Ames, who was born in Trinidad & Tobago but is now flying the Canadian flag, set the morning pace in the event’s first visit to this venue with a polished eight-under-par 64 that was illuminated by an eagle at the tenth, where he hit a 5-iron to eight feet.

“Solid, no mistakes, a lot of fairways, a lot of greens and gave myself a lot of opportunities, which you need to do out here,” said the 58-year-old, who tied for third in this event behind Miguel Angel Jimenez at St Andrews four years ago and, more recently, finished runner-up to Kiwi Steven Alker in this season’s PGA Seniors.

Ames, of course, is probably best known for riling Tiger Woods before a first-round match in the 2006 WGC-Accenture Match Play in California. “Anything can happen, especially where Tiger’s hitting the ball,” said Ames, who was duly thumphed 9&8.

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“I played nicely,” he added of this more enjoyable experience. “I think overall the golf course played fair. You still have to hit the shots on the right plateau on the greens. Gave myself the opportunities and any time I had some long-ish putts for birdie, I gave myself some nice foot-and-a-half, two-foot putts for par. Wasn't too stressful, let's put it that way.”

Playing in the same group as Ames, Englishman Paul Broadhurst was having a “shocker” as he found himself three-over after just five holes before turning his day around by covering the “remaining stretch in eight-under to sit handily-placed on 65.

“I was thinking I was back down the M6 after five holes, to be honest,” admitted Broadhurst, the 2016 winner at Carnoustie, having also landed the Scottish Senior Open - his maiden title in the over-50s ranks - at Archerfield Links the previous year.

Jerry Kelly finished with five straight birdies for a 65 after seeming to injure his hand as he took a practice swing on the eighth hole then getting “mad” when he started to feel “sorry for myself” because of that.

The American said a par save on the 12th had been a “momentum changer” as he then made birdies from a foot at both the 13th and 14th before keeping his foot to the pedal thereafter.

“I was going down the rabbit hole - the old woe-is-me story,” declared Kelly, a 10-time Champions Tour winner. “Basically told myself to shut up and go play some golf, and it worked out. I'm very happy.”

In tougher afternoon conditions - the temperature dropped and a gentle breeze picked up - American Glen Day eagled the last to match Ames’s morning effort while Darren Clarke posted a bogey-free 65.

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Day’s dazzling effort not only came out of the blue but was also produced with a replacement set of sticks.”I have nothing,” he replied to being asked about his form coming into the event.

“I didn't even get my golf clubs. I had to get another set of clubs, and this is a new putter and a driver that I didn't hit very well. I have no reason to believe I would play good today.

Four-time winner Bernhard Langer came home in four-under for a 67, three less than his former Ryder Cup partner Colin Montgomerie, who was three-over after four but also salvaged his day on the inward journey.

Afterwards, Montgomerie said he was off to the Accident & Emergency department at Ninewells. “I’m just going to hospital in Dundee,” he said of a mystery ailment. “It’s been going on for two years.”

Qualifier Scott Henderson and Paul Lawrie fared best of the Scots with matching 69s while Andrew Oldcorn sits alongside Montgomerie. Sandy Lyle had to settle for a 72 after starting birdie-birdie while it was a disappointing day for Euan McIntosh as a closing 7 left him signing for a 75.

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