PALM HARBOR, Fla. — Padraig Harrington knew he was playing better golf than his scores indicated. He just wasn’t expecting the lowest official score of his life – 10-under-par 61 to set the course record Thursday in the Transitions Championship.
Harrington took a step toward ending 17 months and 37 tournaments without a victory when he made 10 birdies, including a 75-footer late in his round, to build a three-shot lead over former Swainsboro, Ga., golfer Will Claxton at Innisbrook.
With a 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th, Harrington broke by one shot the record at the esteemed Copperhead Course that had been held by Mark Calcavecchia in 2007 and Jeff Sluman in 2004.
Harrington’s previous best was 62 three times, most recently at the 2009 Portugal Masters. He also had 61 at the Nedbank Challenge in 2001, an unofficial event. It was not recognized as a course record because of preferred lies.
Claxton birdied the 18th for 64, a score that would have put him atop the leaderboard at Innisbrook the past seven years. John Senden, coming off 65 in the final round at Doral, was in a large group at 66 that included William McGirt and 51-year-old Kenny Perry, making a rare appearance on the PGA Tour.
Doral winner Justin Rose and Luke Donald were at 67, while defending champion Gary Woodland opened with 68.
LPGA TOUR: In Phoenix, top-ranked Yani Tseng played a seven-hole stretch on the back nine in 7 under-par and finished with 7-under-par 65 for a share of the first-round lead with Hee Young Park in the LPGA Founders Cup.
Tseng birdied the 11th, 13th and 14th holes, eagled the par-5 15th, and birdied the 16th and 17th. She had a 4-foot try for another birdie on 18, but pulled her putt just left.
Park closed with a bogey on the par-4 ninth for her 65.
Jiyai Shin opened with 66, and second-ranked Na Yeon Choi was another shot back along with Karen Stupples, Pernilla Lindberg and Hee Kyung Seo in the tour’s first U.S. event of the year after stops in Australia, Thailand and Singapore.
EUROPEAN TOUR: In Marbella, Spain, teenager Matteo Manassero tied the course record with
8-under-par 64 at the Andalucia Open, giving him a three-stroke lead and a strong start in his bid to qualify for the Masters Tournament.
“Of course, Augusta is on my mind as I would love to be going back,” he said.
The 18-year-old’s opening round on the Aloha course in Marbella matched Lee Westwood’s second-round score en route to his victory in 2007.
Five players were at 67: Niclas Fasth, Eduardo de la Riva, Henni Otto and Anthony Wall and European Tour rookie Lloyd Kennedy.
Manassero is ranked 63rd and is trying to get inside the top 50 by the end of the month to ensure a return to the Masters, where he first played in 2010 as British Amateur champion. Manassero needs to win this week and finish no worse than runner-up in next week’s Hassan II Trophy in Morocco.