- Associated Press - Friday, March 16, 2012

PALM HARBOR, FLA. (AP) - Padraig Harrington has lost track of how many times he has set the course record. Most of them were when he was just starting out his career, young enough to see opportunity instead of the risk of failure.

“When I was a young pro and naive and innocent, I used to go out there and shoot more course records than now as a seasoned pro with a lot of fear and damage in my system,” he said Thursday after opening with a 61 to establish the record at Innisbrook.

He began his week at the Transitions Championship with a hole-in-one during the pro-am, using a 6-iron on the fourth hole. Harrington tried to count up the number of aces he has made in his career and was off. Way off.

He thought he had as many as 12. There have been only six.

“And the fact that I can remember the clubs and the shots and everything about them suggests that there really isn’t a seventh,” Harrington said. “I just assumed I had more. So don’t believe whatever a professional golfer says.”

The only thing that can be trusted is the score on the card.

And it was unbelievable.

Harrington opened with two birdies and closed with three straight birdies along the “Snake Pit” stretch of holes on the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook. That included a 75-foot birdie putt from one end of the 17th green to the other.

How good was his 10-under 61?

It was one shot better than the previous record set by Mark Calcavecchia in 2007 and Jeff Sluman in 2004.

It was three shots better than anyone else in the opening round on a gorgeous spring day. Will Claxton had a 64. Claxton played with William McGirt, who shot a 66. Harrington nearly beat their better-ball score.

Perhaps most impressive is that Harrington was nearly 8.7 shots better than the course average. And he managed this 61 despite failing to birdie three of the par 5s at Innisbrook. That included a simple, uphill 6-foot putt on the 11th hole in which he “choked like a dog.” And it was probably a good thing.

It was the one time Harrington started thinking ahead, wondering if this day was so good that a 59 was in the works.

“I got over it and started thinking, `If I hole this, I’m 7-under par, seven holes to go, I only need to make five more birdies,’” he said. “I just got totally out of where I should have been, hit a bad putt and missed. But if anything, it kind of got the 59 out of my head. So as much as I did choke, it made it easier for the rest of the holes.”

The 61 was the lowest score of his career in an official event. His previous best was a 62 done three times, most recently at the 2009 Portugal Masters. He also had a 61 at the Nedbank Challenge in 2001, though it was an unofficial event and didn’t even count as a course record because of preferred lies.

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