Confidence is key in golf and while Shane Lowry and Pádraig Harrington opened with five under 66s in the British Masters at Woburn, they are in different places mentally.
The pair are just two strokes behind England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick. But while Lowry comes into the tournament on a high following his career changing WGC-Bridgestone Invitational victory in August, Harrington is struggling to create some momentum.
While he was 20th in The Open — a disappointing result considering he was close to the lead early in the final round — he 44-year old has done little else right since he won the Honda Classic in March.
But he found some solace on the greens at Woburn on Thursday, making six birdies and dropping just one shot in a fine opening round
After taking just 25 putts, Harrington had no doubts about what pleased him most.
“I putted well," he said. "At times I haven’t been putting very well over the last number of years. I putted very well today so that really made the score. I can’t say I played brilliant but I certainly putted nicely and worked my way around the golf course.”
Confessing that he struggles to reproduce his usual Wednesday pro-am fireworks when the curtain goes up for the real thing, Harrington added: “I was tentative at times. I wasn’t really free flowing tee to green.
"There was a little bit of caution in it at times. Yesterday in the pro-am it was a lot easier. I always play well on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. It’s one of those things. Holing a few putts will free me up a little bit more so if I can do that for the next three days, I can see things improving.
“It’s important in all tournaments to get a good start. You have got to get momentum in an event. You can miss a few putts early on and you are struggling at level.
“Then you see six under leading and you are windering and wondering and all of a sudden you are on the cut line.
"Whereas if you make a few birdies, you are going forward and it tends to be easier to keep going forward. So a huge part of our game is about momentum.”
Lowry finished tied 19th in Scotland last week in his first start for six weeks and his freshness and confidence showed as he made five birdies in an immaculate 66 that left him tied for sixth with Lowry, Mikael Lundberg, Marcus Fraser, Bradley Dredge and Romain Wattel.
“It was nice,” the world No 21 said. "I played nicely today. I got myself in trouble a few times and made a couple of good up and downs. I kept it going, which was nice.
"I managed to make a few birdies and I felt like I gave myself a few chances and could have been a little bit better but I will take it.”
Pleased with the way he has responded to the pressure of being the highest world ranked player in the field and looking forward to getting out of fresh greens on Friday morning, Lowry is brimming with confidence since he won the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in August.
Ranked sixth in the Race to Dubai, a win in England would push him close to Rory McIlroy in the race to become European No 1. But he’ll have to play well to stop Fitzpatrick, who birdied the last two holes for a brilliant seven under par 64.
With six birdies alongside an eagle on the seventh hole, against a solitary bogey on the second, the 21 year old is one stroke clear of Dane Søren Kjeldsen, Swede Robert Karlsson, Englishman Lee Slattery and Marc Warren of Scotland.
Fitzpatrick has finished in the top three in three of his last seven appearances, and he gave the sell-out crowd of nearly 15,000 plenty to cheer as the £3million returned to The Race to Dubai for the first time since 2008.
Tournament host Ian Poulter made a strong start with an opening 68, while Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, the men who will take on the role in the coming years, opened with rounds of 67 and 69 respectively.
Royal Dublin’s Niall Kearney built on his second successive Irish PGA win on Sunday with a two under 69 to share 29th with Michael Hoey, who hit 17 greens as he made an eagle three at the seventh (his 16th) and 17 pars in his round.
Graeme McDowell missed just two fairways in his 70 while Paul Dunne scrambled well to post a level par 71 to share 56th.
Damien McGrane (72) and Darren Clarke (74) are outside the cut mark.
Complete first round scores (par 71)
64 M Fitzpatrick (Eng),
65 S Kjeldsen (Den), M Warren (Sco), R Karlsson (Swe), L Slattery (Eng),
66 S Lowry (Irl), P Harrington (Irl), M Fraser (Aus), B Dredge (Wal), R Wattel (Fra), M Lundberg (Swe),
67 A Sullivan (Eng), L Donald (Eng), J Singh (Ind), R Bland (Eng), K Aphibarnrat (Tha), A Levy (Fra),
68 F Zanotti (Par), O Fisher (Eng), R Karlberg (Swe), A Wall (Eng), I Poulter (Eng), R Fisher (Eng), W Ormsby (Aus), J Van Zyl (RSA), J Luiten (Ned),
69 D Willett (Eng), S Hutsby (Eng), L Westwood (Eng), J Donaldson (Wal), N Colsaerts (Bel), C Wood (Eng), M Hoey (Nir), A Chesters (Eng), R Finch (Eng), N Kearney (Irl), M Crespi (Ita), D Brooks (Eng), A Cañizares (Esp), D Horsey (Eng), M Carlsson (Swe),
70 N Fasth (Swe), A Hansen (Den), N Dougherty (Eng), M Lorenzo-Vera (Fra), A Johnston (Eng), S Kapur (Ind), G Mulroy (RSA), J Quesne (Fra), L Bjerregaard (Den), G McDowell (Nir), O Farr (Wal), G Havret (Fra), J Edfors (Swe), P Hanson (Swe),
71 R Green (Aus), E Espana (Fra), J Campillo (Esp), P Dunne (Irl), F Molinari (Ita), M Nixon (Eng), S Hend (Aus), Y Yang (Kor), T Hatton (Eng), R Cabrera-Bello (Esp), S Lewton (Eng), D Howell (Eng), O Wilson (Eng), G Bourdy (Fra), P Larrazábal (Esp), K Broberg (Swe),
72 C Lee (Sco), D Drysdale (Sco), T Lewis (Eng), H Otto (RSA), D McGrane (Irl), M Foster (Eng), M Tullo (Chi), J Garcia Pinto (Esp), D Lipsky (USA), R Rock (Eng), G Storm (Eng), G Stal (Fra), M Jiménez (Esp), E Pepperell (Eng), J Parry (Eng), T Olesen (Den), T Pieters (Bel), B An (Kor), T Fleetwood (Eng),
73 P Baker (Eng), M Manassero (Ita), M Madsen (Den), B Hebert (Fra), T Aiken (RSA), M Ilonen (Fin), T Fisher Jnr (RSA), D Fichardt (RSA),
74 J Morrison (Eng), M Kieffer (Ger), J Carlsson (Swe), J Kruger (RSA), P Edberg (Swe), D Clarke (Nir), M Lampert (Ger), S Benson (Eng), F Fritsch (Ger),
75 S Gallacher (Sco), T Bjørn (Den), S Hansen (Den), T Levet (Fra), F Aguilar (Chi),
76 R Jacquelin (Fra), A Quiros (Esp), R Kakko (Fin), S Jamieson (Sco),
77 J Levermore (Eng), M Siem (Ger),
78 C Doak (Sco),
** P Uihlein (USA).