TWO birdies in the final three holes saw David Howell post a one-under par first round at the Irish Open on Thursday as he opened up with a 69.

A pair of earlier bogeys on the back nine looked to have the Swindon star headed for an over-par opening to his latest event on the European Tour, only for him to claw back shots at holes 16 and 18 to get into red figures.

That has Broome Manor man Howell inside the top 60 on the leaderboard, six shots off the early lead held by Padraig Harrington after the three-time Major champion shot a 63.

Howell’s fellow Wiltshire golfer Jordan Smith endured a frustrating day, meanwhile, as he shot a three-over 73 and is outside the top 130 and will need a big improvement on Friday to make the cut.

Howell’s round got off to a steady start at Lahinch Golf Club in County Clare as he began proceedings with a run of six successive pars.

A first birdie of the day was gained at hole seven, although that shot was swiftly surrendered with a maiden bogey at the next.

Howell was able to reach the turn under-par after birdieing the ninth hole, but again he could not build on his good work as again it was followed by a bogey on the first hole of the back nine.

After three more pars, two-time Ryder Cup winner Howell then found himself over-par for the first time on the day after another bogey at the 14th.

However, he salvaged his round with a superb finishing, starting by returning to level par with a birdie two holes later.

Things then got even better for Howell as he recorded another birdie on the final hole before returning to the clubhouse to sign for a first-round 69.

The tournament marks one of Howell’s final two chances to qualify for the Open later this month.

He must finish as one of three best non-qualified players and inside the top 10 to book a place at Royal Portrush.

Howell tees off his second round at 10.35am BST on Friday.