McDowell heads Irish challenge as Harrington's putter and Lowry's driver misbehave
 Jordan Spieth

Jordan Spieth

Even Jordan Spieth had reason to curse the golfing gods after a mud ball halted a magical run towards what could have been the lowest round in major championship history.

That he bogeyed the 15th but then dropped a 20 footer for birdie the last for a 64 and a three-shot lead over Charley Hoffman, Justin Rose, Ernie Els and Jason Day was probably poetic justice.

“It’s called golf,” McDowell said when asked if finding your putting but losing your driving was frustrating.

McDowell bogeyed the last for a 71, three putting from through the back of the green. But like Shane Lowry, who dropped five shots in four holes from the 10th to post a 75 on his Masters debut, Augusta National tests your driver as well as you skills on the greens.

Few are more aware of that than Pádraig Harrington, who had 35 putts in a 72, dropping shots at the 16th and then the 17th, where he three-putted from 76 feet.

“It’s always disappointing to make a few bogeys coming home,” Harrington said as his mental guru Dr Bob Rotella hovered in the background, ready to do some remedial work immediately afterwards.

“Two under would have been a very nice return, and level par seems….. Two under, you're looking forward; level par, you're looking backwards.  That's the way it is.

“The course was there [for the taking]. It always is on Thursday, but it was easy today. A lot of the holes, like I said, the wind seemed to help a lot today. There weren't very many holes that it played tough on.”

Harrington knows he has added to his workload for the next three days, as have Lowry and McDowell.

"I need to do nicely over the next three days,” Harrington admitted. “As I said, I feel like I've given up two or three shots today. If you got to eight-under par, you'd sit in the clubhouse, so I do need to play well from now on.  But it's not like I need to go out and shoot 66 tomorrow.”

As for his putting, he said: “My four birdies were on the par 5s; three of them were two-putts. I hit some nice shots at times.  Obviously struggled a lot on the greens, which is an issue. So hopefully we’ll be better tomorrow. I just didn't hole putts.” 

In short, a 72 was pretty much the worst Harrington could have shot as he mixed birdies at all four par-fives with bogeys at the first (trees off tee), 10th (pulled second). 16th (bunkered left) and 17th (bad drive and three putt).

McDowell also had his problems but he was far more upbeat after posting a 71 — his best opening round since 2009’s 69 — to share 18th place with compatriot Rory McIlroy on one under.

But after seeing such good scoring on the first day with the course playing soft, he’s bracing himself for some payback.

“I’m expecting to see a tougher golf course,” McDowell said after mixing five birdies with four bogeys.

“I think what Jordan [Spieth] did today was totally doable. Every time I looked back he was in the fairway and really hitting the irons where you want to hit them.

"The greens are pure here and if you are feeling comfortable on the greens, which I assume Jordan is these days, he seems to be up there every week, I think it was on. But maximum respect. He is one of the most in-form players in the world and good to see him doing it.”

As for his own score, McDowell was pleased to putt well and shoot under par despite having driven the ball poorly by his standards. 

“A 71 is medium pleasing but I can’t continue to hit it that crooked off the tee and expect to hang in there. The driver had a 50p face on it. I don’t know what was going on.

“There were a few too many mistakes but enough birdies to keep things good…. I putted okay today. My area of focus in practice was short game and putting.”

On the swings and roundabouts aspect of golf, he said: “That’s golf. You work on one aspect of the game that’s weak and get it right and it’s amazing how something else goes. That’s just the game of golf and what keeps us coming back for more.”

McDowell has struggled to find the right mental balance to best deal with a course that is not immediately GMac-friendly.  

Lowering his exceptions appears to have worked.

“Maybe that’s the future,” he said, “under promise and over deliver.”

Lowry had high hopes for his Masters debut and confessed he was “disappointed” with a 75 that leaves him tied for 69th in an event when the top 50 and ties and all those within 10 of the leader make the cut.

Still he can be proud that he fought back so well from five over after 13 to give himself a fighting chance of making the cut. 

He almost made birdie at the first despite driving into sand but then hooked his tee shot into the hazard at the second and made six.

“I said, let's keep it under 40 on the back nine and try to shoot 75 or less, and that's what I did,” he said. “I had a great chance at the last. It was quite unlucky it didn’t roll back to the hole side. So I’m disappointed with the score, but still, going out tomorrow, if I can shoot 69 I'll be okay.”

Normally a very consistent driver of the ball, a destructive snap hook as showed up in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“I have that low snap hook in my bag at the minute, and it's been coming out every now and then. Today it came out on the two holes you really don't want it on (2 and 13). You get away with it on most holes.  

You hit it on the first, you probably make bogey but you get away with it. But the two holes you couldn't really hit it on, I hit it on today. 

“That's the thing.  My golf is okay.  It's not that bad.  It's just like that shot is just so bad that you can't afford to hit a shot like that on a golf course like this.  

“You get away with it on some holes, like I said, but because I have that in the bag, I'm probably not driving it  I'm kind of steering it a little bit. 

“Listen, that's the way it is.  I'm going to have to shoot a score now.  Like I said, my goal now is to make the halfway cut and try and get four rounds around here.”

Lowry was level par through nine holes having made birdie from 11 feet at the third and followed a bogey at the fifth (through the back) with a three from four feet at the seventh.

A bogey at the 10th, where bunkered his approach, left him one over standing over his approach to Amen Corner.

 “I holed a great putt on 9 to stay level par and I was thinking to myself, you know, going okay here, if I can get through 10 and 11, and all of a sudden you have a chance of shooting a good score. 

“I just hit a bad second shot on 10, poor bunker shot, made bogey.  Then hit my drive down the right hand side on 11 and it didn't really kick back left for me.  Hit in the semi rough and tried to carve a rescue around the trees, overhanging trees, and pulled it into the water and obviously didn't get up and down.”

The double bogey left him on three over and after missing a 12 footer for birdie at the 12th, he made another  big mistake at the 13th, hooking into the woods left of Rae’s Creek and then three putting for a seven.”

That he recovered with birdies at the 14th and 16th was a huge positive but Lowry knows there’s a lot of work to be done.

“There is a question asked on every hole here  The greens are quite receptive today, but even so, if you find yourself out of position, it's quite difficult. 

“So I had a decent shot into 15 today and the chip I had, I mean, if I didn't get that coming out with enough spin, it was straight into the water.  I could have easily hit a decent chip shot and chipped into the water there.  That's just the type of place this is.”

“It’s another day tomorrow.  My goal from here now is obviously to get back to level par and get back to under par as soon as I can, and hopefully that's tomorrow. 

“Drained? No, not at all.  It was just a bit of a roller coaster round for me.”