Back at Augusta National after his fading form had meant he missed out last year for the first time since his debut in 2000, the three-time major champion earned his return ticket by winning the Honda Classic last month, his first PGA Tour win since 2008.
His pre-tournament confidence had looked a little misguided when he bogeyed the first hole of his opening round after finding the trees right of the fairway off the tee but he emerged with a bogey that could have been worse but for an excellent approach shot to 14 feet, from where he two-putted.
Birdies at the second and eighth got Harrington back in the groove but the back nine was more of a rollercoaster, with bogeys at 10, 16, and 17, either side of birdies at 13 and 15 as the Dubliner neared home.
Graeme McDowell also had much to prove given his poor Masters record, that included a missed cut last year but the former US Open champion also got off to a solid start and was one under with four to play.
Darren Clarke will go into today’s second round of the Masters looking to convert chances into good scores after an opening, two-over-par 74 left him wondering what might have been.
Two double bogeys on the front nine at Augusta National left the former Open champion to battle his way to a respectable score, which the Irishman did with some steady golf on the way home and a bonus birdie at the par-five 15th.
“The wind is still changing about and gusting between the trees,” Europe’s Ryder Cup captain said after his 41st round at the Masters since his debut in 1998. “It’s Augusta. It is there in front of you but it’s difficult, much more difficult that it appears. I played nicely. Got to hole some putts.”
Clarke, 46, rued his double bogeys at the par-four fifth and seventh, attributing the first to a poor second shot and the latter one to a mud ball he had failed to spot and therefore factor in to his shot.
There was a birdie at the par-three sixth in-between but there were also putting woes that prevented good scoring opportunities becoming better than they turned out, particularly on the back-nine par-fives.
Clarke three-putted the 13th for par and then two-putted the 15th for birdie, each after great approach shots
“My speed was a little bit off but I made two nice putts, six and seven footers, on the last two holes which were good saves,” said Clarke, whose verdict on his day was “not what I wanted but not too bad.”
What Shane Lowry would have given for “not too bad” as he tussled with Augusta National for the first time in competition last night.
The Masters debutant had had such high hopes of a strong start and had looked at ease with the task ahead as waited to tee off alongside former champion Mark O’Meara and Chris Kirk.
Even when he bunkered his tee shot at the first, Lowry produced an excellent recovery shot out of the sand to 12 feet before two-putting for par. Bogeys at the second and fifth were followed by birdies at three and seven as the world number 46 turned in level par but then disaster struck the Offaly golfer.
He bogeyed 10, then double-bogeyed the par-four 11th and then also doubled the 13th with a seven that sent him to five over par. But Lowry is nothing if not dogged and birdies at the par-four 14th and par-three 16th will have given him encouragement that all is not yet lost as he ended with a 75.