Padraig Fires 64 for First-Round Lead in Barclays

Padraig Harrington carded a 7-under 64 to take a one-stroke lead following the opening round of The Barclays. The $8 million event -the first in the four-tournament FedEx Cup Playoffs - began Thursday at Bethpage Black in Farmingdale, N.Y.

The 40-year-old Dubliner opened with two birdies and a bogey on the front nine to make the turn in 1-under 35 before getting downright torrid on the home half with six birdies in eight holes to come in with a 6-under 29.

"Bethpage is a big, strong golf course, and we got it on a very calm day, which was in our favor. I think I started out certainly the first couple of holes very much in the U.S. Open mindset and was happy to be making pars," the three-time major winner said of the beginning of his round. "(Playing partner) Troy Matteson, he got off to a really good start. He was 3 under early on. If anything it really helped me because I could see that, hey, this wasn't a U.S. Open, there was birdies to be made. He made an eagle. Wow, an eagle! Imagine making an eagle at a U.S. Open.

"So you have to get out of that mindset because level par isn't winning the tournament this week. It isn't a U.S. Open. It isn't going to be like that. It's a big, strong golf course, but it's set up nicely," Harrington added. "You have to get into the mindset that you've got to make some birdies. There are some big holes out there, and you have to take your medicine at times and be happy to play into the center of the green." (See below for Harrington's full post-round interview.)

One shot back of the 18-hole leader are Americans Nick Watney and Brian Harman, who started play on the 10th tee. Watney, a four-time Tour winner from Sacramento, posted four birdies and a double-bogey - on the par-3 14th hole (his fifth of the day) - on his front nine, and four more birdies on the back, including three in a row on Nos. 4-6 (his 13-15).

Watney was among several players who thought Bethpage Black was easier than when the U.S. Open last took place at the public course. "I thought the combination of soft greens - but the fairways were rolling out a little bit made the course play miles shorter than the U.S. Open in '09," said the 31-year-old. "The greens are rolling really nice, so I think that combination sort of made it a bit easier than those conditions. But I think the golf course will only get tougher from here."

Harman, a 25-year-old from Georgia in search of his first Tour victory, had three birdies on his front nine and four more - coupled with a bogey - on the back. He entered The Barclays ranked 97th in the season-long FedEx Cup points race. In order to qualify for the second Playoffs tournament - next week's Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston - he needs to a high finish in New York to stay in the top-100 and advance.

Harman noted later that his task is pretty clear. "I've just got to keep playing well. I haven't done a very good job this year of keeping my emotions in check," said the University of Georgia grad. "I get really upset when things aren't going my way, and I'm just going to try to do as best I can in these Playoffs to not throw away in the shots and just see where it pans out."

Sharing fourth place after 66s are two Americans - Pat Perez and Jimmy Walker, England's Gary Christian, and Sergio Garcia, who broke a four-year victory drought last week by winning the Wyndham Championship in North Carolina.

After using a caddie from a local club in Greensboro, Garcia had Wayne Richardson, whose regular job is getting yardage estimates for CBS's golf telecasts, on his bag Thursday. "He's not a professional caddie, but I don't feel like I need that at the moment," Garcia said before the first round. "I'm probably just going to do my own thing until the end of the year, and then at the end of the year I'll decide what's best for me."

The 32-year-old Spaniard, who posted six birdies and a bogey, is pleased with his recent play. "Momentum is there, you're feeling good about your game," Garcia said after his round. "So it's obviously - yeah, it obviously makes it a little bit easier to go out there and hopefully play like I did today . . . But it's just the beginning, so hopefully we'll keep it going throughout the week."

Within three strokes of Harrington are George McNeill, K.J. Choi, defending champion Dustin Johnson, Jonas Blixt, Rickie Fowler and Justin Rose.

Johnson, who won the 2011 Barclays when it was held at Plainfield Country Club in Edison, N.J., and the tournament was reduced to 54 holes due to the impending threat of Hurricane Irene, had three birdies and a bogey (on the par-5 seventh when he lost his tee shot) on the front nine and two birdies on the back.

The long-hitting South Carolinian took a conservative approach at Bethpage Black. "Just kind of kept it in play, hit a few good shots and rolled in a few good putts," said the 28-year-old. "I got in a little trouble on six (sic), the par-5, I had a lost ball, and ended up making four with my second ball and ended up making bogey. But other than that played pretty good all day."

Five of the favorites - Phil Mickelson, Luke Donald, Tiger Woods, Zach Johnson and Ernie Els - were among 12 players shooting 3-under 68s. The group also included Greg Owen, William McGirt, Troy Matteson, Chris Kirk, Ian Poulter, Vijay Singh and John Senden.

Starting on the 10th tee with playing partners Zach Johnson and No. 1-ranked Rory McIlroy, Woods was surprised that the vaunted "Black" played as easy as it did on Thursday. "It's still soft, but the green speeds aren't quite as fast. You know, I shot 3 under par, and I'm not even in the top 10. So it's a little different deal."

Woods added, "It's the different pins, too. They're probably a step and a half easier today than they normally are for an Open. The USGA likes to obviously push the envelope, especially if it's soft. They like to get them over in those corners. But today they're a little bit easier, and you have a little more room. You can take a few more chances and go after them. Even if you short side yourself, you have enough room to leave yourself uphill putts, and there were a few times that we took dead aim at pins that we would never do just because I would have an easy uphill putt."

Mickelson, who's had five top-10 finishes this year in 18 starts, including a win in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, was happy with his performance. "It was a nice start to this event," Mickelson said. "Obviously I didn't light it up, but I played a good, solid round. I shot 3 under, and it gets me in a good position starting the tournament. Gosh, my game really took a turn for the positive at the PGA, where on the weekend I started to really strike it well, and I spent time this last week working on it.

"Today was really close to being good. I didn't drive it as well as I've been driving it these last 10 days or so, and I kind of clicked on the last shot. If I can get that going (Friday) and get the ball in the fairway off the tee, which I've been doing now of late, I really think there's an extra-low round out here."

McIlroy, the runaway winner in his last tournament, the PGA Championship at the Ocean Course in South Carolina, was among nine players opening with 2-under 69s. He was joined in a tie for 26th with Ryan Moore, Lee Westwood, Steve Stricker, Kevin Streelman, Colt Knost, Tom Gillis, Bob Estes and Jeff Maggert.

The 23-year-old McIlroy had four birdies and a bogey on his front side before coming home with two bogeys and a birdie. Despite the off-color numbers on his card, the Ulsterman was satisfied. "It was good," McIlroy said of his round. "I thought I played really solid, especially starting off, 3 under through 6, and hit a lot of great tee shots and a lot of good approach shots, as well.

"Sort of got a little quiet around the middle of the round, and my short game let me down a couple times, missed the green on three and made bogey and then hit two good shots into the fourth, the par 5, and then got up and down for birdie, and made a 5 at 6, as well.

"But I feel like the way I played, it was good. It definitely could have been a few shots better. But I'm happy with how I played."

In typical fashion, reigning Masters' champion Bubba Watson had an up-and-down day, carding an eagle (on the par-5 fourth), three birdies and four bogeys to be among a big group shooting 70s. U.S. Open winner, Webb Simpson, had a three-birdie, three-bogey 71. Also shooting even-par was defending FedEx Cup champion Bill Haas.

Other notable scores included 75s by former major winners Graeme McDowell and Trevor Immelman. Davis Love III, the 2012 U.S. Ryder Cup captain, also got off to a rugged start with a 76.

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After signing his card, Harrington met with reporters for the following Q&A. He not only discussed his opening 64 but responded to questions about the rumored rocky relationship he has with Jose Maria Olazabal, the captain of the European Ryder Cup team. Harrington will not be one of Europe's 10 automatic qualifiers, and will need to be a captain's selection to participate in his sixth Ryder Cup. Here's what the three-time major champion had to say.

MODERATOR: We'd like to welcome Padraig Harrington to the interview room. Padraig currently ranked 62nd in the FedEx Cup standings. Super strong start with a 64 today, including a 29 on the back nine. Maybe just some overall thoughts on your round and getting off to such a good start today.

PADRAIG HARRINGTON: Yeah, obviously particularly happy to shoot 64 around Bethpage. I think the biggest difficulty - maybe not the difficulty but the most interesting thing was it's very hard to go out and play this course without thinking you're playing a U.S. Open. Certainly early on in my round I was making pars and very happy. Troy Matteson I was playing with made a birdie and an eagle early on, and it definitely helped me cross that divide between thinking I'm at a U.S. Open and level par is going to be the winning total this week, whereas this is much more of a sprint. It's the FedEx Playoffs. You're going to need to be 12 under par at the end of the week, or who knows, but it ain't going to be level par.

So changing that mindset certainly helped with my playing partners and certainly helped with Troy. Obviously I got a nice run on the back nine. I hit a couple of shots close on 11, 12 and 13, which gave me great momentum, and I putted nicely all the way through my round. I think I only missed one fairway, one green sort of thing, so I gave myself lots of chances. But probably I've been playing well for quite a while, but this is the best I've putted, the best I've struck my putts, the best I've rolled the ball for a long period of time.

Q. We had some players in here yesterday, and a lot of them had the same mindset, that the course was very hard, that a 1 under, 2 under could win the tournament, something like that. Did you have that same type of mindset, or did you expect -

PADRAIG HARRINGTON: No. I knew the golf course was tough, there's no doubt. It's a big golf course. But you know as it gets into the tournament the golf courses never play quite as tough as the players will tell you it is on a Wednesday. We tend to like to - we like to overplay it a bit before the tournament starts.

But the fact - you know level par going into the U.S. Open, the rough isn't as heavy here, so you've got to think it's going to be - and the pressure isn't the same, so you've got to think it's going to be more under par, more players are going to challenge. And at a major there's a lot of players once they get up there they're going to come back, whereas at a FedEx Playoff they're prepared to keep moving forward. As much as walking onto the golf course I definitely - my mindset was level par, I was trying to get away from that and trying to think 12 under par.

Q. If you win this week everything will be sort of resolved for the Ryder Cup -

PADRAIG HARRINGTON: How do you make that out?

Q. Is that not true?

PADRAIG HARRINGTON: This week doesn't count.

Q. Are you relying on a pick for -

PADRAIG HARRINGTON: I can't make - there's no possible way I can make it in on the rankings. This doesn't count in terms of rankings. If I won this week there would be enough points that I would have automatically got in, but it doesn't count for points.

Q. Then how would you characterize your relationship with José María?

PADRAIG HARRINGTON: You know, I don't know where I sit. Or maybe I do. (Laughter.) I kind of feel it's not something - I'm not really going to get into and discuss because I'm either going to do one of two things: I'm either going to look like I'm pleading or I'm going to look like I'm incriminating myself, one or the other. As I keep saying to people, you over here have this thing called the Fifth. I'm going to plead the Fifth. I'm not going to build myself up or I'm not going to tear myself down. At the end of the day, it's up to him.

Q. At the risk of getting a pleading the Fifth for a third time, do you really in your heart believe that an incident that occurred nine years ago would keep you off the Ryder Cup team?

PADRAIG HARRINGTON: You really have done your homework. (Laughter.) You know, I was very supportive of José when he got the captaincy. I truly believe that he's interested in winning the Ryder Cup. And I know in my own situation, I'd be putting I do believe José would do this. From the character that he is, I believe he would put winning way above anything that's personal. The Ryder Cup means so much to Europe, particularly to José as a European player. Nobody, bar Seve, would understand in his mind what it means to Europe.

Winning is what's important to him. I can't see that being - I think he'd pick - to get a winning team, I can't see personal coming into it to get a winning team, no. Why am I talking about it? There you go. It's just a tough subject obviously. As I said, any time you ever see anybody else in similar situations, half the people come out and say, he's trying too hard to get a pick, and the other half are saying, he's not trying hard enough. It's a no win situation. At the end of the day, it comes down to what happens.

As regards my golf, I'm happy I'm playing well. That's all I can do. I've played well all year solid, and I'm happy that I seem to have something going and my putting going that's bringing me back to where I've been. I'm happy. What more can I ask for? I might be happier but - don't say things like that.

Q. Could you imagine a situation where you won and you weren't picked?

PADRAIG HARRINGTON: You know, I know we're getting a lot of questions on this, and I shot 64 today and I hit some nice shots. We're talking about the wrong stuff. But I'm Irish, and being brought up in Ireland, we have a lot of - we pay a lot of attention to bookmakers and their odds, and I'm sure if I went and had a look at the odds, I would be a long shot to make the team.

Q. Why is that?

PADRAIG HARRINGTON: I don't want to know what I am, but anybody who - there's no point in asking me the question. There's more people out there who pay more attention to stuff than I do. I don't really know what's going on. As I said, I'm in a terrible place. As I said, I definitely - the last time around, I got the benefit of the doubt. Myself and Paul Casey, Monty could have picked either of us, and he went with me. See, every time I talk about this, I'm playing it down.

Look, it's a tough situation I'm in. I didn't play enough - not playing in the bigger events outside of those four majors hurt my cause. Not doing anything - playing solid but - that's the way it is. Look, at the end of the day, we'll see how we get on this week. I'm going to keep playing well and see what happens. I'd dearly love to play in the Ryder Cup. I've played four out of six Ryder Cups. See, I'm starting to plead now.

MODERATOR: Want me to say 'next question'?

PADRAIG HARRINGTON: Next question, please.

Q. Would you say it's a motivating factor for you right now? You are playing pretty well.

PADRAIG HARRINGTON: You know, there's a lot going on. This is the FedEx Cup, and that's serious motivation. I would be a liar to tell you that I'm not thinking about the Ryder Cup. I thought about it too much at the PGA for sure, PGA Championship. I think I've had a little bit of clarity since the PGA and certainly I've had a better ability to do my own thing this week. Obviously I'm sitting in here after shooting 64 around Bethpage leading the tournament, and we're spending 90 percent talking about it. It's hard to get away from the Ryder Cup, there's no doubt about it.

Guys in the U.S., you can't understand - overestimate how big a deal it is in Europe, the Ryder Cup. It's very important. Let's talk about that another time. It's just a big, big deal.

Q. Obviously you've won at Westchester, played well at Liberty National. Is there something about playing here in the New York area that you enjoy?

PADRAIG HARRINGTON: Obviously there's huge support here from Irish Americans that live here. I think I get generous support from American people anyway. The New York crowds seem to get on well with me. So yeah, I get a lot of support here, and I really enjoy playing in New York. You've got to remember, this is not far off the closest place I can play to nearly home. It's only a five hour flight home. It's pretty close, as close as you're going to get for me.

Q. Talk about your round today.

PADRAIG HARRINGTON: The course is super. We had super conditions today. Obviously it was perfect for playing golf. I think it's ideal to - Bethpage is a big, strong golf course, and we got it on a very calm day, which was in our favor. I think I started out certainly the first couple of holes very much in the U.S. Open mindset and was happy to be making pars. Troy Matteson, he got off to a really good start. He was 3 under early on. If anything it really helped me because I could see that, hey, this wasn't a U.S. Open, there was birdies to be made. He made an eagle. Wow, an eagle! Imagine making an eagle at a U.S. Open.

So you have to get out of that mindset because level par isn't winning the tournament this week. It isn't a U.S. Open. It isn't going to be like that. It's a big, strong golf course, but it's set up nicely. You have to get into the mindset that you've got to make some birdies. There are some big holes out there, and you have to take your medicine at times and be happy to play into the center of the green.

The greens are speeding up. There's plenty of pace in them. So you have to be wary when you're putting on them. You can't go at the hole on any putt. But I think overall it's a playoff, and you've got to get out there and - it's probably going to be a 12 under par winning total this week or something like that. It's not going to be a level par one. So you kind of got to get your head around that.

Q. How is it different?

PADRAIG HARRINGTON: The rough isn't as heavy. The rough isn't as heavy, and the pressure isn't the same. Classic example of that is Torrey Pines. When the U.S. Open was there, I think it was easier than - or certainly as easy as a regular Torrey Pines event, yet level par against 20 under par or something. It's amazing the difference, the pressure a major brings. But here you're going to have more players prepared to shoot low numbers, and as I said, if you want to win this tournament and do well in the Playoffs, you've got to get your head around it.

Every event, and probably even more the FedEx Playoffs, the difference between that and a major, a major always feels like a marathon. It's a long haul. You don't mind somebody running off because he's going to come back, whereas at a FedEx event, you want to get a good start. It's a bit of a sprint. You don't want to be left behind. But at a major you don't mind being left behind as long as you're in the tournament because unless you're Rory, not too many people run away from the field in majors.

Q. Do you feel as if this is your final audition for the Ryder Cup, or do you feel no matter what you do it's out of your hands and there's nothing you can do?

PADRAIG HARRINGTON: You seem to be answering your own questions there. You can only have questions, and the only answer I can give at this stage is I'm pleading the Fifth Amendment on that one. I honestly don't know what to say. I don't want to go in there and try too desperately to beg for a pick, or I don't want to go in there and give excuses for anything. I'll just leave it be what it is. I'm just going to play golf.

Q. Is it on your mind?

PADRAIG HARRINGTON: Yeah, it's on my mind, no doubt about it. I think it was more on my mind at the PGA. Yeah, definitely.

Q. Is there an equivalent of the Fifth Amendment in Ireland?

PADRAIG HARRINGTON: No. I don't think you have that right. (Laughter.)

MODERATOR: Padraig, thanks for your time.

The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.