Padraig Harrington happily tucked into the chasing pack with an opening three under par 69 at the Masters Tournament as his bid to win three successive Majors got underway.
Harrington trails first round leader Chad Campbell by four strokes after the American opened with a 65, just missing out on a piece of golfing history at Augusta National with two bogeys to close. At nine under par with three to play Campbell needed one more birdie to become the first player to shoot a 62 in any of the four Majors.
Even three pars would have equalled the course record and put him alongside 21 other players who have achieved 63 in Majors, but the 34 year old Texan found sand on the 17th and 18th, bogeyed them both. Nevertheless, it proved good enough to lead fellow American’s Jim Furyk and Hunter Mahan by a stroke.
The European Tour challenge at the end of a glorious opening day in Georgia is spearheaded by Australian Aaron Baddeley, 2007 US Open Champion Angel Cabrera of Argentina and South African Tim Clark, who is hoping to break the hoodoo and become the first player to win both the Par 3 contest and the Masters.
Cabrera won the US Open on greens renowned for being among the toughest in the world and he will need that touch to see him through this week.
“I like playing tough greens,” he said. “I guess what I like is just to play the way they are and like everybody else, but just when greens are so tough, you need to be patient, and that's what I tried to do.”
Clark benefitted from his early start in the second group out and said: “I think it was a bonus for me to go out early. The course set up really good, for myself, anyway, the greens being somewhat receptive today; obviously they will get firmer as the week goes on, but the greens as they were, I could fire at some flags.
“It certainly didn't play to its full length, and that kind of helped, too. It did not allow me to go for any par 5s, but my wedges have been feeling pretty good lately, and I was able to make four birdies on the par 5s, which is key.”
Harrington is tucked into the group on three under par alongside fellow European Tour Members Graeme McDowell, Ross Fisher and Andreas Romero. Both Fisher and McDowell bogeyed the last two having got to five under par through 16 holes.
"That was definitely one of the more generous days ever here," said Harrington after a successful first leg of his quest to capture a third successive Major.
"Thursday is all about staying in the tournament, but you've got to feel it's going to get tougher.
"At some stage I really expect a course that's really difficult, right to the limit.”
Birdies around the famous Amen Corner gave the Irishman a boost after reaching the turn in one under par 35.
“A couple of birdies round there at the 12th and 13th certainly got my round going as the course is set up for good scoring today. At that stage, one under par, I was looking to make a few birdies. I am a bit disappointed with 14, 15 and 16 as there were opportunities but to shoot three under par the first day keeps me right in the tournament.”
Fisher is playing only the fifth major of his career, but has already made his mark in the United States this season with a fourth place finish in the WGC- Accenture Match Play in Arizona.
"I've been dreaming about playing in the Masters for such as a long time and it's an absolute pleasure to be out there.
"The finish was disappointing, but if you score 69 at Augusta National you're obviously doing something right.
"I'm going to cherish every moment this week, but at the same time I'm here to do a job and have come with a feeling that I have a chance of winning."
Like Fisher, McDowell bogeyed the last two but was still delighted with his opening round.
“ I hit a couple of loose tee shots on the last two holes and paid the price for them but generally hit the ball well and into all the right places. Putted well and left quite a few shots out there. I have got to be content with that opening round.”
Tiger Woods bogeyed the last to equal his lowest first round in the Masters. It’s the fourth time Woods has shot 70 in the opening round at Augusta National – and ominously he won on each of the other three occasions.
Fit-again Woods, seeking his fifth Green Jacket and 15th Major, has five to make up following a two under 70.
Woods was only level par after 12, then had three birdies in a row, but after missing an chance for another on the 17th bogeyed the last, going over the green and sending his chip racing past the cup.
"I let a couple of shots slip away," he said, "But I was happy with how I hit the ball.
"The guys were tearing the place apart and you could definitely go get it. I didn't make anything the first eight holes, but I hung in there."
Miguel Angel Jiménez carded a 70 to match the scores of Greg Norman and Bernhard Langer, two of the elder generation competing this week, and their playing partner Lee Westwood.
Westwood commented: “Rarely will I have as nice a day as that on a golf course in a Major Championship. Growing up in Europe I watched a lot of Bernhard Langer and Greg was World Number One or thereabouts and one of the reasons I played golf – he was a hero of mine. To play with them both in the first day of the Masters and all walk off with 70 was a pretty relaxing day for the first round of the Masters.
“We were having a chat now and again but they were chatting about things that happened before I was born! They played great and showed why they are champions. I could learn a lot about how they play the game and their short game in particular. They are not short and still get it out there 290-300 yards.”
Gary Player, now aged 73, is another great Champion and has announced this, his 52nd appearance, will be his last Masters. He shot a 78.