AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Bitterly disappointed to miss out on last year's Masters because of a declining world ranking, Padraig Harrington feels revived in ending his absence from Augusta National.
The Irishman has been warmly welcomed by his peers and, following a morale-boosting victory at the PGA Tour's Honda Classic last month, is excited about his prospects at this week's opening major of the year.
"It's like I'm playing my first Masters," triple major winner Harrington told reporters during his build-up to Thursday's opening round. "It feels like I didn't miss one year, it feels like I missed a number of years.
"I'm in decent form so I'm a little bit more excited about going back to the Masters. It's not like I'm going to have that many more Masters going forward, so I'm running out of time. I'm excited to be back."
Harrington failed to qualify for last year's Masters after his ranking tumbled to 174th and it continued to slide before he ended his 2014 campaign 265th.
Victory at the Honda Classic, where he beat American rookie Daniel Berger in a playoff, rocketed Harrington to 82nd in the rankings as he ended a title drought of seven years on the two main tours.
Now that he is back at Augusta National with the rest of the game's leading players, the 43-year-old Dubliner aims to make the most of his Masters experience accumulated over 14 previous appearances.
"Experience is a very big factor here," said the Irishman, who won his three majors during a remarkable 14-month span -- clinching the 2007 British Open, the 2008 British Open and the 2008 PGA Championship.
"It is tough for anyone who hasn't played here before. When you are not quite in an ideal position, where do you hit it?"
"There's not going to be too many surprises."
Harrington has recorded four top-10s in his 14 consecutive starts at Augusta National, most recently a tie for eighth in 2012.
"I played very well in 2012," he said. "I hit the golf ball well and I putted a lot worse. Hopefully I'll putt better this week than I did in 2012.
"Game-wise it was very good in 2012 and I'm hoping it could be every bit as good as that this week, and maybe a little bit stronger mentally."
Editing by Larry Fine