IRVING -- What Padraig Harrington could really use, from all indications, is a tour guide to help him navigate the bunkers, swales and undulating greens at the HP Byron Nelson Championship in his first visit to the event.
A guy, quite frankly, like caddie James Edmondson, who is shepherding Colleyville resident Ryan Palmer around the course and up the leader board for a second consecutive year at the Four Seasons Resort.
Edmondson, a former Fort Worth Paschal golfer and two-time club champion at Colonial Country Club, made all of Palmer's key club selections while his boss posted a 64 in Thursday's opening round. That allowed Palmer to grab a one-stroke lead at an event he lost last year in a sudden-death playoff.
Harrington, a three-time major champion, basically flew blind in his first competitive journey around the TPC Las Colinas layout and posted an opening 68. It easily could have -- probably should have -- been better, a fact that gnawed at Harrington after his round.
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"I played seven holes in 6 under par, so it was a nice run," Harrington said about a mid-round stretch that carried him, briefly, to the top of the Nelson leader board. "It's just a pity I didn't finish it off."
Instead, Harrington gave back four strokes to par in his final seven holes, starting with a double bogey from a fairway bunker at No. 12. He also struggled with a balky putter, a season-long malady.
"I like the golf course. I don't really know it," Harrington said. "That's going to catch up with me at some stage."
It happened Thursday on the back nine, shortly after Harrington missed an 8-foot birdie putt on the 11th hole that would have given him a solo lead with lots of momentum. Instead, the miss stuck with Harrington and triggered a round-turning series of poor swings at No. 12.
"Missing the putt on hole 11 seemed to stall me in the round," Harrington said. "I made an innocuous double bogey on the next hole and, to be honest, I was just trying to get [to the finish line] after that."
Harrington, 40, said his troubles began with "a careless tee shot" at No. 12. From there, the two-time British Open champ compounded the situation with "a bad third shot and a bad fourth shot....I should have dropped a shot, maybe. But I was being aggressive. I took a chance."
And he paid the price. Even with that gaffe, Harrington still looms as a Nelson newcomer worth monitoring as this week unfolds.
His Thursday score eclipsed the first-round efforts of Phil Mickelson (70) and Ernie Els (70), two other multiple major winners in this field. It matched the digit posted by Vijay Singh (68), another multiple-major champion competing in Irving.
It is worth noting that all three of those guys also have Nelson titles on their résumés. This is Harrington's first opportunity to join them, thanks to a decision to mix in the Nelson in place of the Wells Fargo Championship on his 2012 schedule.
Also worth noting is Harrington's eighth-place finish at last month's Masters, where he turned in four days of crisp ball-striking but struggled on the greens.
"I'm playing great, tee to green," Harrington said. "I just need to roll it better. I think I'm finding my way with that. I'm just working through it."
Unlike Palmer, who said he is relying on Edmondson to tell him to "just hit this shot and go" as his Nelson game plan, Harrington is trying to figure out the course as the week unfolds. He learned enough Thursday to bury a 62-foot chip for eagle at No. 7, as well as five additional birdie putts from inside 11 feet.
The early hot stretch, Harrington said, did not surprise him.
"That often happens when you don't know a golf course. You don't have any fear or bad memories," Harrington said.
From all indications, Thursday's back-nine backslide will not leave any permanent scars on Harrington's psyche. If he can avoid more unexpected hiccups that trigger double bogeys in subsequent rounds, Harrington has a chance to become the second consecutive golfer to win in his Nelson debut, like 2011 champ Keegan Bradley.
But he'll have to do it without a tour guide. Ryan Palmer already employs the guy who understands this place as well as anybody.
Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760