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August 8, 2009

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Harrington takes charge with late birdie surge

Ireland's Padraig Harrington spectacularly rolled in three successive putts from more than 20 feet to grab a two-shot lead in Thursday's opening round of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio.

Competing in his first tournament since the British Open three weeks ago, the three-time major winner fired a flawless six-under 64 at Firestone Country Club.

Having teed off at the 10th, Harrington did well to save par at the sixth by rolling in a 21-footer before adding birdie putts from 26 and 23 feet at the seventh and eighth. He then parred the ninth to end the day two ahead of Thailand's Prayad Marksaeng, American Scott Verplank and South African Tim Clark in the elite World Golf Championships WGC event.

Americans Steve Stricker and Zach Johnson and Britain's Ian Poulter opened with matching 67s while world No. 1 Tiger Woods, bidding for a record seventh title at Firestone, carded a 68.

"I'm very happy," Harrington, 37, said after posting his lowest score of the year. "It was nice to shoot a score that probably was slightly ahead of how I played."

Harrington has not triumphed on any of the leading tours since clinching his third major title at the PGA Championship 12 months ago.

Prayad, a six-time winner on the Asian Tour, was delighted with his opening round after teeing off in the second group of the day on the par-four 10th hole.

"Conditions were very nice and I was really happy with my start," said the 43-year-old, speaking through an interpreter. "The greens were quite fast but I like them fast."

Woods, who has piled up 15 WGC titles in 29 starts, was satisfied with his opening 68.

"You don't have to go super-low here," the 33-year-old said after covering the back nine in two-under 33. "You just kind of plod your way along, make a few birdies here and there and if you get on a little stretch like I did, make two in a row, boom, all of a sudden you're in eighth place."

Defending champion Vijay Singh returned a 70, as did world No. 2 Phil Mickelson, back on the PGA Tour after a six-week break while supporting his wife and mother as they undergo breast cancer treatment.

In Reno, Nevada, Australian Rod Pampling fired a five-under 67 for a one-shot lead on a blustery opening day of the Legend Reno-Tahoe Open on Thursday.

A shot behind Pampling were seven golfers, including twice winner Vaughn Taylor and twice runner-up Jonathan Kaye.


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