Harrington leads Nedbank; Westwood 2 back

Padraig Harrington

SUN CITY, South Africa – Padraig Harrington led the Nedbank Golf Challenge by one stroke after picking up five birdies on the back nine to shoot a 6-under 66 Thursday in the opening round.

The Irishman’s first birdie came on No. 8, and he made seven in his last 11 holes to overtake Ross Fisher of England at the Gary Player Country Club in Sun City.

Fisher led at 7 under before a double bogey at No. 17, just before play was suspended for nearly two hours because of rain and lightning.

Top-ranked Lee Westwood shot a 68 after overcoming a slow start. The Englishman had five pars and a bogey before finding his range with five birdies in eight holes from No. 7.

Harrington, ranked No. 22 with his only win in 2010 on the Asian Tour, was wayward early and had to hit two provisional shots on the par-5 No. 2. But the three-time major winner kept making pars until holing four successive birdies from the eighth hole.

“I am very happy with that,” Harrington said. “I do not feel on top of my game, but I’m going to have to use all my grit over the next three days ... it is going to be some good golf and some bad golf. But if I work at it, I can do the job.”

Westwood’s sole bogey came on the par-4 No. 6, but he added a birdie to kickstart his challenge.

“It was good to bounce back straight away and I played pretty solidly from there on in,” he said. “All in all, I’m quite pleased – 68 is a nice way to start. I enjoy playing here, it suits my eye.”

Five Europeans – the top four all Ryder Cup winners – occupy the top six places at Sun City.

Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain shot a 69, defending champion Robert Allenby of Australia and Justin Rose of England are tied after shooting 70s.

The enthusiastic South African fans, who regard the Nedbank as “Africa’s major,” received little joy from their four home golfers.

Three-time winner Ernie Els and British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen had 71s. Retief Goosen shot a 72, while Tim Clark had a 73 after making a triple-bogey seven at No. 6.

Edoardo Molinari (71) and Anders Hansen (72) are also in the field at the $5 million, 12-player invitational event.

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