From Brian Keogh at Augusta National
Padraig Harrington’s dream of completing the "Paddy Slam" is still alive after he opened with a solid, three-under par 69 in a birdie-fest at sun-kissed Augusta National.
Birdies and eagles were the order of the day as the green jackets softened the course that has come in for so much criticism over the past few years.
And Harrington took advantage to card his first sub-par opening round for SEVEN YEARS and trail leader Chad Campbell by just four shots at the end of the day.
Pleased to fire five birdies birdies and just two bogeys, Harrington said: “You don’t want to attack on a Thursday but it was as easy a day as I have seen at Augusta.
"You could throw it away by attacking too much. There was an urgency there but you couldn’t go hell for leather.
“It’s a nice start and whileThursday all about staying in the event t here was definitely a feeling of urgency about the round.
"It was nice to pick up a few shots through Amen Corner but I was disappointed to let chances slip on 14, 15 and 16th
“There are only a few easy pin positions here and we seemed to get them today so you felt you had to make birdies, knowing what is going to come over the next three days.
“On a lot of holes you felt like you should be making birdie and you were disappointed if you didn’t. It was a day you wanted to finish in the 60s.
"I think I was expecting maybe tougher conditions going out, but in fairness, these are the fastest the greens have ever been, since maybe 2000 when I first came here. But I think the greens are as quick this year as they have ever, ever been.
"Given a little bit of a receptiveness is probably okay, considering how fast they are. And if you do ‑‑ like I hit it long on 16, and I think I was walking up thinking I had a reasonable angle and I had to chip the ball to the right of the pin because of the speed of the green. The further left I went, the more it was going to come back out to the right. There are a lot of pins, if you hit it good, you get close on. But if you hit a bad approach shot, you are being left in awful difficult shots because of the speed of the greens.
"It's a really good setup. As I said, but we do expect ‑‑ at some stage during the week, I would expect to play a golf course that's very difficult, really difficult, because we are playing a Major Championship. So at some stage, you really expect to be tested right to the end of your limits, and obviously today was a nice day. And sometimes the last nine holes, they set the golf course up easy. But it's somewhere between now and then, and I think you'll find that there will be maybe a tougher wind and a tougher day."
The Open and US PGA champion had to produce a gutsy finish to make his score after a nasty bogey six at the par-five 15th looked to have dented his chances.
Three under for the day, he overshot the green of the hole where he ran up a seven and an eight in 2007 and failed from eight feet for par.
He was through the green again at the par three 16th but chipped to eight feet and holed the putt before draining an 18 footer from just off the back edge of the 17th for birdie to get back to three-under.
Harrington ended his first hole jinx - five bogeys from his last seven tries - when he walked off with a confidence boosting par.
After driving into the trees in the left, he punching out to the front of the green and then chipped dead to get his bid for the third leg of the Paddy Slam underway.
He then reached the 575-yard, par-five second in two with a superb five wood to 15 feet after a three wood off the tee.
But while he missed from 15 feet for his eagle, his putting touch was superb as he returned to his old pre-shot routine after three weeks of experiments.
Despite missing a 15 foot chance at the third, he two-putted with the touch of a concert pianist from 50 feet at the fourth and 75 feet at the fifth.
He dropped a shot at the short sixth where he pulled his tee shot into the crowd and missed from four feet.
Playing with 2003 champion Mike Weir and Japan’s Ryuiji Imada, the entire group was put in the clock at the par-five eighth by referee John Paramor. But that didn’t stop Harrington picking up a shot.
In sand off the tee, he laid up and then sent a fizzing sand wedge over the pin and watched it spin back to within inches of the cup and tapped in to get to two-under par.
Up and down from left of the 10th for par, he produced another Houdini save at the 11th to keep things going through Amen Corner.
Blocked out after a cut drive clipped the trees, he laid up 37 yards short of the water-guarded green and holed a slippery six footer for par.
He then rifled his tee shot to two feet at the 155-yard 12th before blasting a massive drive around the corner and the 13th and two-putting from 35 feet for birdie to get within two shots of the lead.
When it was over he was philosophical about his position in the tournament and ended up tied for 14th at the end of the day.
"I could have shot a couple better at the end of the round, but that is irrelevant when it comes to 72 holes," Harrington added. "We all know that things will get a little tighter towards the end of the week. Whether you shoot 3‑under or 6‑under the first day or whether a putt drops or it doesn't, we wait till Sunday if the putts drop; it's more important then.
"It is impressive the way the golf course was obviously set up for scoring and they have the Tournament Committee, they have full control over that during the week. They can set the course up any way they feel to get the score they want. Today was definitely one of the more generous days ever around Augusta, and you've got to feel that it's going to get a little bit tougher as we go on the next three days."
Asked about the return of the Augusta roar after several low key years, Harrington said: "I think there was plenty cheering and plenty of birdies being made, plenty of shots being hit close, and plenty of balls running at the hole. A lot of times, you saw a lot of shots spinning back towards the hole, which obviously gives great momentum to the crowd. And you can tell sometimes those shots are blind and you can tell exactly where your ball is, depending on how the pitch of the crowd goes up as it gets closer.
"So it is interesting for us and it is exciting for us when there is a buzz like that out there. But definitely, when you hear a lot of cheers around, it makes you a little bit more anxious to be part of that and make sure you're ‑‑ just a little more urgency to make sure you are making birdies, too."
As for his game, Harrington was not clapping himself on the back.
He said: "I stuck in there well but I was not overly thrilled with any part. I struggled on the front nine on times, and I was getting distracted by the little wind that was there, because it did change direction quite a bit. And I was better on the back nine. I committed more on the back nine.
"So like I'm going now after I finish, I'm going to go hit a few drives, I'm going to hit a few chips and a few putts. That kind of does cover the whole of the game, but that's what I felt was weak. That's what I felt I needed a little bit of tidying up on.
"But I know it's going to be a long week,72 holes, and the whole idea is to be there with nine holes to go. So far, so good. So the confidence is whatever I'm doing, for me, seems to work; playing a couple of events into a major seems to be getting me ready. You know, obviously I'm on top of things, which is nice."