Harrington reconciled with his putter

Happiness is a long walk with a putter. Photo Eoin Clarke/www.golffile.iePadraig Harrington declared “Harri Putter” back in business after a 71 gave him just his third sub-par start in 13 Masters appearances.

The Dubliner, 40, has crashed to 96th in the world over the last three years and found life even tougher in recent months as he battles a crisis of confidence with his putter.

But he was delighted to see his magic wand produce the goods again as he took just 27 putts and fired an eagle and two birdies to finisht the day just four shots off the lead held by England’s Lee Westwood.

Happy to see the blade working again, he said: “It looks like I’ve turned a little bit of a corner with the putting.  I’ve been playing very nicely besides that so hopefully over the next few days I’ll put the two together.”

While refusing to elaborate on a return to the “cut” putting style, he said: “I made a few changes and I was very happy with what I saw out there on the greens today.  I don’t want to talk about the technical changes I’ve made - I’m back to holing putts, that’s all I know.

“Whether it continues like this for the next couple of days, I don’t know, but it certainly is the right road to be going down over the next number of weeks so I’m very positive about that side.   

“My putting is definitely what pleased me most about the day. I missed a couple of putts and it didn’t bother me. I liked what I saw and a 71 is always a decent start in a major.

“Any time you shoot under par in a major tournament you are never going to have a problem and it has proved to be a bit better than I had expected but we’ll accept that.”

Seeking his first major since 2008, Harrington kicked off a series of vital par saves with a four footer at the first.

But the real key to his round was a sensational eagle three at the second - his first in 41 attempts on a hole where he made a quadruple bogey nine in 2009.

That gave him room for manoeuvre on the tough front nine as well as his second set of crystal goblets this week following his Par-Three win.

Harrington said: “The eagle was important because it meant there was something in the bank. I made a couple of bogeys after that, but I was never over par and always thought I was going to shoot under par today after that. So it was a good start to the round and it meant I got the piece of crystal in early!”

Looking anxious after hooking his drive around the corner, he finished up well down on the flat and hit a 229-yard five iron with a draw to eight feet behind the stick and drained to the putt to take the early lead.

He never looked back after that and got up and down for par after barely overshooting at the third before holing a crucial four footer for a bogey at the par-three fourth after bunkering his rescue wood tee shot in the right hand trap and then powering his par putt from the middle tier well past the hole.

He looked likely to salvage a great par at the seventh when he hit a sensational draw out of the left trees to the back fringe.

But while he came up three feet short with his slick putt and then stood off his par putt before missing it well left, he birdied the par-five eighth despite a heavy handed pitch that ran nine feet and then saved a great par at the ninth.

Forced to hack out of the trees on the right, he was short-sided left of the green but played a towering lob that spun back to 10 feet and holed the putt with confidence.

A mud ball cost him a shot at the 11th, where he bailed out right out of fear. But after saving par with a six footer at the 14th, he barely carried the lake at the par-five 15th with a five wood and two putted from 18 feet for birdie to get back into the red.

Caddie Ronan Flood thought it was heading for the water, but both could laugh about it afterwards.

“We actually thought it was going to the back of the green,” Harrington said of his play on a hole that has caused him no end of headaches since he made his Masters debut in 2000.  “But the last 50 yards of it, the wind gusted up.  I always thought it was over.  He obviously had a little bit of a moment.

“I would have said it’s probably the only putt of the day I got a little bit frustrated on, but the rest of them were fine.”

A bunker recover to three feet at the 17th helped him save par and keep his momentum going and he was pleased to see that the field hadn’t taken massive advantage of the soft conditions.

Harrington said: “I’m pleased.  I think I’m more pleased with the score.  There’s very few players burning it up, let’s say.  

“Conditions are very good out there for scoring in terms of there’s no wind, greens are soft.  But I think they were aware of that and put in some tough pins today.  

“While you can go at every pin out there, if you’re slightly out, you’ve got your work cut out to make a par.”