After shooting a 64 to take the first-round lead in the Barclays at Bethpage Black Thursday, Padraig Harrington pleaded "the Fifth." And he's an Irishman, no less.
This could be a very big tournament for Harrington if he wants to extend his string of Ryder Cup appearances, which stands at six. He's too far back in the points standings for the 10 automatic European team slots, so he has to depend on a captain's pick by Jose Maria Olazabal.
He hasn't had the best of seasons, and has played a lot on the PGA Tour this year. He played OK in the majors but didn't qualify for the World Championship Golf tournaments that would have earned him European points. The Barclays doesn't count, but with Olazabal making his captain's picks Monday, a win on the Black would show Harrington to be in top form with the Ryder Cup coming up at Medinah Sept. 28-30.
Harrington was reluctant to get into his chances for a Ryder Cup pick, or his relationship with Olazabal, which was sullied nine years ago when he called for a rules official when he was playing a match against Olazabal in the Seve Cup.
"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," Harrington said. "As I keep saying to people, you over here have this thing called the Fifth. I'm going to plead the Fifth . . . At the end of the day, it's up to him."
He didn't entirely dodge the Olazabal issue. "I was very supportive of Jose when he got the captaincy," Harrington said. "I truly believe that he's interested in winning the Ryder Cup . . . From the character that he is, I believe he would put winning the Ryder Cup way above anything personal."
It took Harrington a few holes Thursday to realize he wasn't playing the U.S. Open. His last two events at Bethpage Black were the 2002 and 2009 Opens, and the place imprints itself in every player's mind as a major championship venue.
Fact is, the Black isn't nearly as difficult for the Barclays as it was for the Opens. The rough isn't as high and the greens aren't as fast. And once he convinced himself that he could attack the course, Harrington's 7-under-par 64 tied the competitive course record set by Mike Weir and Lucas Glover in the 2009 Open, and club pro Craig Thomas in the 2007 New York State Open.
"The most interesting thing was it's very hard to go out and play this course without thinking you are playing a U.S. Open," Harrington said.
"Certainly early on in my round I was making pars and very happy. Troy Matteson [who] 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 the U.S. Open and level par is going to be the winning total this week, whereas this is going to be 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."
Harrington is quite comfortable with the course and the atmosphere at Bethpage.
"There's huge support here from Irish-Americans that live here," Harrington said. "You've got to remember, it's not far off the closest place I can play to nearly home. It's only a five-hour flight home."
And a 41/2-hour stroll for a 64.