Composed Harrington makes bright start

Composed Harrington makes bright start

A smiling Padraig Harrington, doing a brilliant job of handling all the pressure on him, began his bid for a third successive major title with a three-under-par 69 in The Masters at Augusta National.

It was a better score than he had produced in the opening round either at The Open or the US PGA last year and it left the Irishman only three behind clubhouse leader Jim Furyk.

But a bogey six on the long 15th – a hole which has got the better of him several times in the past – was a blow Harrington could have done without.

And that was made even more the case given that in the group behind him former US Open champion Furyk had four birdies in a row from the 14th to edge one ahead of Japan’s Shingo Katayama and fellow Americans Chad Campbell, Hunter Mahan and 50-year-old Larry Mize.

Good news for Harrington, who matched his best start to the tournament, was that Phil Mickelson managed only a 73 and late starter Tiger Woods was down on one over after seven holes.

The Dubliner was leading the European contingent along with England’s Ross Fisher, who reached five under before bogeying the last two for a 69 on his debut in the tournament.

Rory McIlroy, in the last group of the day just behind Woods, started with six straight pars, but had had to work hard for the first of them after going from bunker to bunker.

It is hard to imagine Woods giving a television interview just before embarking on such an important test, but Harrington was prepared to before he teed off.

The Open and US PGA champion said that for him part of the key was “to smile and not get too intense”.

“I have to enjoy the challenge and see it as a challenge. I’ve got to stay patient and see what happens,” he commented.

True to his word, he had a smile on his face as he walked up to an opening drive in spite of the fact that he pulled it onto the pine straw.

Short of the green in two, he scrambled a par and promptly birdied the long second.

He did bogey the short sixth, but birdied again two holes later and was probably just where he wanted to be when he picked up more strokes on the 12th and 13th.

However, the 15th was where he finished with a triple-bogey eight two years ago and this time, having laid up short of the lake, he pitched over the green and failed to get up and down.

He saved a good par at the short next after going way too long, birdied the 440-yard 17th and almost made another from 15 feet on the last.

Fisher is playing only the fifth major of his career, but has already made his mark in the United States this season with a fourth-place finish in the WGC-Match Play in Arizona.

In near-perfect early-morning conditions, the European Open champion sank eight-foot birdie putts on the second and third, then converted a 12-foot chance on the short sixth.

A 25-footer followed at the 570-yard eighth, but he turned in 33 after sending his approach to the ninth 30 feet long and three-putting for bogey.

It did not take the wind out of his sails at that point, though. He fired in a wonderful eight-iron approach to three feet at the difficult 505-yard par-four 11th.

After lipping out from 15 feet on the next, the 28-year-old from Wentworth, who could miss The Open in July because his wife is due to give birth that week, was on in two at the long 13th, but from 20 feet he sent his eagle putt six feet past, missed the return and walked off with only a par.

He holed from similar range for another birdie at the short 16th, but as the wind began to pick up he caught the greenside trap on the next and could not recover from driving into another bunker at the last.

Fisher said: “I’ve been dreaming about playing in The Masters for such as a long time and it’s an absolute pleasure to be out there.

“The finish was disappointing, but if you score 69 at Augusta National you’re obviously doing something right.

“I’m going to cherish every moment this week, but at the same time I’m here to do a job and have come with a feeling that I have a chance of winning.”

Lee Westwood, Bernhard Langer and Miguel Angel Jimenez returned 70s – and so did 54-year-old Greg Norman as he returned to the event after a seven-year gap courtesy of his third-place finish in last July’s Open at Birkdale.

Debutant Graeme McDowell and Ian Poulter were on the same mark out on the course, but Sunday’s Houston Open winner Paul Casey stood level par after 10.

Justin Rose, incredibly the leader after the first day on his last three visits to the course, came nowhere near to doing the same, with double bogeys at the 11th, 12th and 17th contributing to a 74.

Luke Donald eagled the 15th, but had turned in 40 and finished with a 73, while former winners Sandy Lyle and Ian Woosnam shot 72 and 74 respectively.

That was some effort from Lyle given he started with a double-bogey six.

Scotland’s only representative in the 96-strong field, the 1988 champion hooked his drive into the trees, went through the green and then chipped off the front of it.

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