FARMINGDALE, New York — Padraig Harrington made six birdies on the tough back nine of Bethpage Black on Thursday, opening the FedEx Cup playoffs with a seven-under 64 for a one-shot lead at The Barclays.
And that surely got the attention of Ryder Cup captain Jose Maria Olazabal.
Harrington has to rely on a captain's pick to make his seventh straight European team, and that looks to be unlikely. Not only has the three-time Major champion gone four years without winning against a strong field, he and Olazabal are not the best of friends after a dispute at the Seve Trophy from nine years ago.
The Irishman faced so many questions about the Ryder Cup, his chances of making the team and what he has to do to impress Olazabal, that at one point he adopted the American way.
"The only answer I can give at this stage is I'm pleading the Fifth Amendment on that one," Harrington said. "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."
He came to life on the back nine with four straight birdies to cap off his 64, giving him a one-shot lead over Nick Watney and Brian Harman among the early starters. The hotter it became, the crustier the greens were, and it was unlikely anyone would catch him. No one did.
Sergio Garcia was part of the group at 66, while defending champion Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler, both trying to make their own impression as potential picks by US captain Davis Love III, were in the group at 67.
There were 73 players from the 123-man field at par or better, not the kind of scoring associated with Bethpage Black.
Thousands of fans followed Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, in the marquee group based on their standing in the FedEx Cup — Woods at No. 1, McIlroy at No. 3. Both got off to a reasonable start. Woods scrambled nicely to recover from a few errant shots and scratched out a 68. McIlroy smashed one driver after another to set up short irons into the greens, and while he had three birdies through six holes, he let the good start get away from him and settled for a 69.
If this is a rivalry, it is a friendly one. Woods genuinely likes the 23-year-old from Northern Ireland, who already has two eight-shot wins in the Majors. During one wait on the par-3 14th, McIlroy listened intently with a smile on his face as Woods told a story, then broke into a big laugh upon hearing the punch line.
Worth repeating for a family audience?
"No," McIlroy said with another laugh.
"He's a nice kid, he really is," Woods said. "As I said yesterday, I played with him in Abu Dhabi. We struck up a friendship back then, and it's continued. And it's only going to get better."
Woods won the US Open at Bethpage Black in 2002, and he tied for sixth when the US Open returned to this public course on Long Island in 2009. While there were differences in the softness of the greens and hole locations, the most obvious difference was scoring.
"I shot three-under par and I'm not even in the top 10," Woods said. "So it's a little different deal."