Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell refused to push the panic button on a black day for the Irish on Augusta’s infamous greens.
But as McIlroy carded a rollercoaster 72 and McDowell finished with two bogeys for a 73, it was Padraig Harrington who summed up a disappointing opening day at the Masters after he shot a six over 78 that left him tied for 82nd and 12 shots behind leaders Mark Leishman of Australia and Spaniard Sergio Garcia
“When I look back at it, it was all short game,” the Dubliner said after seeing a promising round slip away on and around the greens.
One under par after saving a brilliant par at the fifth by hacking out of the pin straw on the right and getting up and down with a sensational wedge to 18 inches, Harrington double bogeyed the sixth, made another great up and down for par at the seventh but then got zero momentum after that as he added just one birdie to five bogeys and a double bogey six.
“I missed a few shots,” said Harrington, who had three-three putts and dropped three shots at this last two holes.
“I misread and missed a few short putts at crucial times. And I really lost a lot of momentum. That’s exactly the story of my day. It wasn’t, it was not a good day for me, no.”
Five shots outside the top 50 and ties who will make the cut tonight - there is also the 10-shot rule - he looks unlikley to make the cut after racking up a double bogey six at the 17th and a bogey at the last.
“Well, it was a terrible finish there, to lose three shots on the last two,” he said, recalling the three-putt bogey at the 14th that broke his spirit. “As I said, ball’s in the air on 14 and I’m thinking, oh, pretty good. And all of a sudden I’m, you know, dead. Bad day.”
While the drove the ball very well at times and hit some wonderful approach shots, McIlroy’s lack of tournament sharpness caught up with him as he went out in two under and came home in two over for a 72 that left him tied for 34th.
Five birdies and five bogeys told the story of an up and down day for the 23-year old world No 2, who confessed that he made too many sloppy mistakes on a course that punishes imprecision like no other.
“It could have been better,” said McIlroy, who had three three-putts. “I felt like I played well and gave myself plenty of opportunities. I just made some silly mistakes - a couple of three-putts on the back nine. I made enough birdies but I just need to cut those mistakes out and I’ll be fine.”
Two under after birdies at the second and par-three sixth, he bogeyed the tight seventh off a perfect tee shot, bunkering his approach but got that shot back with a sublime approach to six feet at the ninth.
But he then turned in a disappointing 38 on the back nine with bogeys at the 10th, 12th (three-putts), 14th and 17th cancelling out birdies at the 13th and 15th.
“I turned in two-under par and everything felt good,” he said. “That was the story of the day. Any time I got a bit of momentum, I gave it straight back. Around this course you really can’t do that.”
Havign hit 14 of 18th greens and two thirds of the fairways, he added: “I feel like the game is there, I mean I hit the ball really well. As long as I keep giving myself birdie opportunities like that and take a few of them, hopefully I can go out and post a good one tomorrow.”
Asked how close he was to the Rory McIlroy that dominated the game at the end of 2012, he said: “I am getting there. I think I am hitting the ball just as well. It is just a matter of taking the opportunities and limiting the mistakes.”
McDowell made a fine start by following four pars with a birdie from six feet at the tough fifth but then bogeyed the sixth and birdied the eighth to turn in 35.
A double bogey five at the 12th, where he tried to putt from just off the back of the green but took four to get down, made him furious.
But he kept his composure, two-putting the 13th for birdie before getting up and down from short of the lake at the 15th for another birdie to get back to one under before dropping shots at the last two holes.
“You know, I played some solid golf to be honest, apart from taking four to get down from over the back of 12, which is just sloppy,” McDowell said. “Rallied nicely, birdied 13, birdied 15, chances coming in.
“The 17th was playing difficult. Tried to force a 5‑iron in there and missed it exactly where you’re not supposed to buy going long there and had a tough up‑and‑down.”
he then bunkered his second to the 18th and dropped another shot to find himself hovering on the cut line in joint 46th on one over.
“The 18th was disappointing. It was an easy enough trap shot there and I just came out of it a little bit. All in all, some good ball‑striking today. Iron play was solid. A couple nice scrambles here and there.
Yeah, disappointed to finish one‑over par, but we can get back out there tomorrow and get ourselves in the red and try and stay in touch going into the weekend.”
McDowell has worked hard to get his short game in shape over the winter but found Augusta to be as unforgiving as ever with slightly hairer lies around the greens making life more difficult at times.
“For sure, what they have done here at Augusta, they have given you a little bit of grass to play with around the greens. Seventy percent of the time, it makes it quite easy.
“But on 12, I didn’t have a lot of green to work with, quite a fast pitch shot. You know, I’ve been practicing hitting the putter, trying to nudge it through the fringe and get it up on the green. And the fringes are very slow to putt through, and it makes it difficult.
“It forces your hands a little bit around the greens and makes you play the shots. It’s very generous and they have given us a chance. I just made a bit of a mess on 12, took the percentage shot, the first putt just came up short and I had a woeful second putt. But such is life. Like I say, rallied well, couple birdies after that, and we’ll be ready for tomorrow.”
Trying hard to look for positives, he said: “Yeah, no panic button. I didn’t play terribly at all today. Hit a lot of nice shots. A couple putts that could have went in here and there.
“Six was my only mistake on the front nine, and 12 was disappointing and the last two, but there was plenty of good there. Some nice birdies, nice swings.
“Just have to go out and shoot 3‑ or 4‑under tomorrow and get myself there for the weekend. You never know with this golf course, it’s going to get tougher and tougher, and you’ve just got to try and stay in it. When I looked at the set of pins today, I thought anything one or two‑under par would be a good score today, so I’m not going to be horribly disappointed with one‑over.”
Given the way he finished, the former US Open champion was remarkably even-tempered about his day.
“Yeah, you’ve got to take the rough with the smooth on this golf course. I walked off the 12th green about to kind of throw the toys out of the pram….”
Harrington also paid a high price for his mistakes, having played very well early in the day.
A birdie from 10 feet off a booming drive at the third got him up and running and he was unlucky not to crown the ridge at the fourth and give himself another 10 footer for birdie there.
At the fifth, he carved his tee shot into the trees but squirted a five wood to within 100 yards of the green and hit his third stone dead to salvage a brilliant four.
With the pin on the top tier at the par-three sixth, he missed the green to the right and faced a tricky chip with the ball above his feet on a mound.
But he didn’t give it enough and saw it bounce in the first cut, kick left and then take the slope, finishing off the front edge of the green from where he three-putted, leaving his tough uphill putt nearly 10 feet short.
He mis-read that putt but made amends at the seventh where his tee shot finished up against a tree in the right rough.
Forced to chip out, he hit a good second around 18 feet above the hole and holed the slippery downhill putt.
But he couldn’t back it up with a birdie at the eighth, where he hit a delicious pitch to six feet. It was all about momentum and he simply couldn’t give himself any when he was on or around the greens.
He said: “It was a pretty simple chip on six and to end up taking double bogey, as I said, a couple of 3‑putts and a couple of short putts. On 8 again it was another short putt missed. It was a big momentum killer.”
After missing the green right at the ninth, he tried to cut up a pitch but made it only as far as the edge and dropped another shot to turn in two over.
“It would have been nice to get back to level par (one eight) and all of a sudden I’m dropping one at nine,” he lamented. “You know, it was that sort of day.”
A bogey at the 12th, where he stood off his tee shot, bunkered it and failed to get up and down, left him facing an uphill battle.
After two putting the 13th for birdie to get back to two over, he still felt he had a chance to salvage the round but it went the other way instead.
“The 14th was the one,” he confessed. “In my head I am birdying 13, 14 and 15 to get back to level and it looked like I hit it in close there and end up making bogey (with a three-putt).
“I take three from the edge on 15 (for par) and shouldn’t have hit it over the back on 17 off a decent tee shot, trying to come up short and right but hit it too hard and another three putt as well. A number of misreads and short putts missed and you need to be holing them for momentum. It was a tough day after that. Bad shot on six, straightfowrard shot. When I look back at it, it was all short game.
“As I said, ball’s in the air on 14 and I’m thinking, oh, pretty good. And all of a sudden I’m, you know, dead. Bad day.”