The three-time major winner, who needs a strong week to bolster his chances of breaking in the world???s top 60 in time to qualify for Chambers Bay, fired five birdies in six holes on the back nine to set the pace in tricky conditions.
Harrington showed no signs of the shoulder injury that saw him last just two holes of last week???s BMW PGA Championship, almost breaking the post-war record for lowest round Royal County Down GC with a missed birdie chance at the last.
World No 1 and tournament host Rory McIlroy posted nine bogeys and no birdies in an opening 80 to sit joint-bottom of the leaderboard, with Ryder Cup team mate Martin Kaymer also struggling in the early-morning marquee group with an eight over 79.
“It was not quite as difficult as I made it look,” McIlroy admitted.
“I was hitting it well on the range, keeping it down and hitting half shots,??but the wind was not up that much on the course and I was caught between trying??to play two ways. That led to missing greens, which led to lots of eight to
12-foot putts for par, which led to missing all of them.
“It’s disappointing because I want to go out there and play well, not just for??myself but for a lot of other people.
“I’ll just have to pick??myself up and go out there tomorrow and shoot a good one. I want to give the??fans something to cheer about and not just get sympathy claps as I got coming??off the ninth green.
“My goal will be to make some birdies – make my first birdie of the tournament??at some point. I’ve missed the cut the last two years so I don’t want to make it??three in a row. I want to at least go out there tomorrow and fight for it, try
to claw my way back towards the cut line and if I can sneak in there, that’ll be??great.”