Five days after one of the best performances of his career, Padraig Harrington found himself struggling to find the same adrenalin today.
But the 32-year-old Irishman still battled away for a two-under-par 70 in the first round of the BellSouth Classic in Atlanta, the final tournament before next week’s Masters.
“I was a little bit flat in places,” admitted Harrington, five strokes behind little-known American Roger Tambellini midway through the day.
On Sunday, he played the last 12 holes of the Players Championship in Florida in a dazzling eight under par and just failed to catch Australian Adam Scott.
The Sugarloaf course is only an hour’s flight from Sawgrass, but conditions were starkly different – cold and windy – for the early starters.
“I brought a woolly hat for the trip, but somehow it was not to be found,” commented Harrington.
“I looked in the car and I was hoping Dave [his caddie, Dave McNeilly] had put it somewhere, but no.
“I struggled to focus and did some silly stuff. I just was not sharp.”
Losing a ball off the tee on the long fourth and taking a bogey six was something of a wake-up call and he birdied the next two, then after three-putting the eighth to turn in 36, he produced a majestic eagle at the 608-yard 10th.
Playing downwind, his drive was measured at 360 yards and from there a five-iron finished little more than a foot from the hole.
But Harrington promptly bogeyed the next two, but he sank a 20-footer on the 16th and two-putted the par-five last to climb back into a tie for ninth.
Tambellini, not even a full member of the US Tour, scorched to a seven-under-par 65 and led by two from Tim Petrovic, with two more Americans - defending champion Ben Crane and Billy Mayfair – one further back.
Scott, Phil Mickelson and Canadian Mike Weir, who next week defends the Masters title, were among the later starters.
There was an obvious highlight for Paul Lawrie in his “very frustrating” 74 - a seven-wood over water to 10 feet for an eagle at the 576-yard 18th.
It was his ninth hole, however, and his very next shot was a drive which finished one foot out of bounds.
“It was not that horrendous a shot and the annoying thing was that I had driven it great on the back nine,” said the Aberdeen player.
He double-bogeyed the hole to go back to level par, then pulled his drive into the creek at the long fourth and had to put another six on his card.
Driving into sand on the next cost him another shot and he said: “It was another of those ‘nearly’ rounds. That’s been the story for the last two years and my patience is running out.”
Luke Donald fought back from three over at the turn to record a level-par 72, but Thomas Bjorn crashed to a 77 and Welshman Phillip Price was four over with one to play.
Donald, who lost a play-off to John Daly in the Buick Invitational in February, is currently considering whether to rule himself out of Ryder Cup contention this year.
He has to commit to 11 European tournaments to remain eligible, but since he is not in the majors or World Golf Championship events at present, it would involve him taking time out from the US Tour to return to Europe and he is reluctant to do that.