Padraig Harrington and Luke Donald began the final warm-up event for the Masters in impressive style yesterday.
Playing partners for the first 36 holes of the BellSouth Classic here, the Ryder Cup team-mates, no strangers to success in America, posted four-under-par rounds of 68.
It gave them a share of fourth place midway through the opening day, four adrift of pacesetting Australian Gavin Coles, whose US Tour career-best 64 included a 189-yard bunker shot into the 17th hole for an eagle two.
Coles had every reason to think he would hold centre stage all day, but defending champion Phil Mickelson raced to five under after only six holes and was in joint second place with fellow American Brett Wetterich.
Harrington also had an eagle on his card. The Dubliner's approach to the long 18th only just made it over the lake, but he then rolled home a putt of 56 feet.
That was his ninth hole and, after bogeying the short second, Harrington sank birdie putts of seven and eight feet on the third and sixth to move into contention at an event where he finished fourth two years ago and eighth in 2002.
Like Harrington, Donald missed the halfway cut at the Players Championship last week but, in his case, he was suffering flu symptoms which he has been told might be caused by allergies.
Because of that, the winner of the Honda Classic three weeks ago took some medicine before his 7.20am start, but afterwards said it gave him the shakes early on.
Despite that, he holed from almost 45 feet at the short 11th, their second, and five more birdies followed, including a superb closing drive and seven-iron to eight feet on the difficult 472-yard ninth.
With Retief Goosen, the third member of the group, scoring 69 Donald said: "We had some momentum between us and, overall, it was a good round."
Three times a winner in the States as a professional, the High Wycombe golfer also won 13 college titles and three other amateurs events in America. If you add the 2001 Walker Cup and the Ryder Cup two years ago, that makes 21 victories in all.
Swede Henrik Stenson, third at Sawgrass on Sunday, double-bogeyed two of his first three holes and, with a five-over par 77, was at the rear of the field.
Coles needs a third-place finish on Sunday to win back his US Tour card, having been given a five-event medical extension following a rib injury last July.
The eagle on the 17th was his eighth of the day. Making a 33-footer on the next enabled him to turn in and the 37-year-old from New South Wales also holed from 50 feet at the eighth.
David Howell and Ian Poulter were among the later starters but Graeme McDowell and Justin Rose could do no better than 73 and 74 respectively.
Mickelson pitched to three feet on the seventh and went to six under but missed from only 14 feet at the third and fourth, first for birdie and then for eagle.
Howell started with two birdies on the back nine and turned in 33 after another at the 15th while Poulter was one under after five. ..SUPL: