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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Harrington in the lead at Grand Slam       Send a link to a friend

[October 17, 2007]  TUCKER'S TOWN, Bermuda (AP) -- Padraig Harrington twice stopped to crouch on the green, studying the grain of the grass and the subtle breaks. He was the model of concentration, grinding so hard that his tongue tucked out of the side of his mouth, his upper teeth biting down on his lower lip.

It looked like he was standing over a crucial putt at Carnoustie when he won the British Open.

Only when he glanced around at the Mid-Ocean Club -- which wasn't very often Tuesday -- was he reminded that this was only an exhibition called the PGA Grand Slam of Golf. The first clue was three major champions walking alongside him down the fairways. The more obvious evidence was a glorious view of pink sand and turquoise water lining the golf course.

The reward after his blue-collar effort was a 3-under 67 and a one-shot lead over U.S. Open champion Angel Cabrera.

"It would feel a bit more like a holiday if I was a bit more in control of my game," Harrington said. "But when you're not in control, there's a lot of work to be done. It's a working vacation."

The emphasis was on work.

Despite concerns about where the ball was going, Harrington ran off five birdies in an eight-hole stretch around the turn and build a three-shot lead at one point until a few mental errors brought him back to the exclusive field.

Cabrera birdied two of his last three holes, missing a 15-foot eagle putt on the final hole that would have allowed him to catch Harrington on a sun-splashed day in the middle of the Atlantic.

Masters champion Zach Johnson and Jim Furyk each had a 71 in rounds that looked nothing alike. Johnson had to play a shot out of someone's backyard on the second hole and was 4 over through five holes until playing bogey-free the rest of the way. Furyk, the replacement for Tiger Woods, made 15 pars and very few putts and was only glad he wasn't farther behind.

Overall, it wasn't a bad start for an exhibition that changed islands and oceans for the first time in 13 years.

The Grand Slam of Golf, the most exclusive field in golf reserved only for the year's major champions, left Poipu Bay in Hawaii after 13 years for the Mid-Ocean Club in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, a course that measures only 6,666 yards but still offered a stern test with swirling breezes, hidden pins and greens so pure the players at times got too aggressive.

Harrington did well to make bogey on the par-3 third after pulling his tee shot into the water and scrambling nicely with a chip to about 4 feet. Then after nearly hitting his tee shot into the water on the par-4 fifth, he hit his approach to 18 feet for birdie and the recovery efforts were under way.

"I was struggling with my game, so my head was very much down," Harrington said. "I saw a little bit of the nice coastline and scenery, but it was very much a workmanlike day. Every shot I was a bit worried. It was a tough day out there for me, and luckily, the putts were dropping and it kept me right in there."

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Cabrera made short work of the par 5s, as expected, and had only one bogey on his card. That also came on the 13th, with his ball a few yards in front of Harrington, a chip that wasn't much better.

"I hit the ball pretty solid," he said through his caddie, Eddie Gardino. "I've played a lot of golf lately. I'm not 100 percent, but I will be up to 100 percent."

Asked when that would happen, Cabrera needed no translator.

"Tomorrow," he said.

Furyk walked around as though tomorrow were yesterday, and it sure felt that way. He finished third in South Korea over the weekend, hung around for a skins game for charity, and made the not-so-quick trip to Bermuda.

He finished about 3 p.m. Monday in South Korea, had a two-hour drive to the airport, arrived in New York about 7:30 p.m. Monday (having crossed the international dateline), cleared customs and arrived on this tiny resort island about 1 a.m. Tuesday.

Of greater concern was missing birdie opportunities on the last three holes.

"I'm four back, and I really felt like I should have come in a lot better than I did," he said.

Johnson described his round as up-and-down, then changed up the order.

"It was down-and-up," he said.

The "down" would be his four bogey in five holes to start his debut in the Grand Slam, including an entertaining second hole when his approach bounced over the bushes into a backyard.

The bigger shock was learning there is no out-of-bounds at Mid-Ocean Club, so the Masters champion got free relief from a stone walkway that was treated like a cart path. Johnson was worried about tearing up the lawn, picked it as clean as he could to 15 feet and then two-putted for bogey, but only after running the first putt some 8 feet by the hole.

"I hit some very poor shots early on and as a result, made some bogeys," Johnson said. "My speed was horrific. Once I kind of got that figured out, I actually played decent."

[Associated Press; by Doug Ferguson]

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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