Harrington’s playing Masters field, not Tiger

By Mike Kern

McClatchy Newspapers

AUGUSTA, Ga. — So if somebody wins back-to-back majors, but Tiger Woods didn’t play in them, what kind of noise does it really make?

Fair question. It’s not Padraig Harrington’s fault that the best golfer in creation was out with a knee injury last summer when Harrington was beating Greg Norman in the British Open and Sergio Garcia in the PGA Championship. Still, it is a fact.

Of course, Tiger was at the 2007 British Open, as your two-time defending champ, when the pride of Ireland captured his first major. So there.


Nonetheless, with Tiger back, Paddy comes into the Masters as a secondary story, even if Harrington is one of the best golfers in the world right now.

He hasn’t won since last August’s PGA. That can happen in golf, even to the great ones. He’s halfway to a Dublin Slam, something that nobody else in this field can claim.

"I tend to take a good winter break, and when I come out at the start of the year I tend to be a little mixed up and complicated from the work I’ve done during the (offseason)," Harrington explained Thursday at Augusta National Golf Club. "This year is not hugely different from any other. I did struggle to find form early on. The last two weeks have been encouraging (ties for 11th and 26th) . . .

"I don’t believe you try to compete against one individual. I can’t be a rival, because in the end I’m always fighting with myself. I could turn up this week and say I want to beat Tiger Woods. Well, maybe I’ll beat him by a shot and he finishes 20th and I finish 19th. That’s not much good to either of us.

"I’d be much happier to shoot 69 in my first round and my rival shoot 68, if there was such a thing. It’s a bad mental outlook to be focusing on one other person."

This is his 10th Masters. He has tied for fifth twice, in 2002 (when Woods won) and last April. Both times, he finished six shots back.

"Obviously, you’re going for three in a row, it’s certainly adding a bit to the story," said Harrington, who will tee off at 9:34 a.m. this morning, with 2003 champ Mike Weir and Japan’s Ryuji Imada. "But if I’d won, say, the U.S. Open and (British) instead of the (British) and PGA, there would be just as much pressure. It’s gotten to the level that adding any more doesn’t make any difference in how I feel. It’s a major. It’s a chance to win another major. It’s a chance to win the Masters. All of those things bring their own pressure.

"I’m going to have that pressure for the foreseeable future in majors. I’m going to turn up in a lot of them knowing that if I play my game, I can win. A couple of years ago, maybe I would have gone in with the thought that if I get lucky this week, I might win a major. Now I realize I actually can win majors within my own control. Regardless of what’s going on outside with (the media) or whether it’s three in a row."


Nice problem to have. A lot of blokes wish they did.

"It’s a dream come true for me," said Harrington, who has won Wednesday’s par-3 tournament twice. "Winning majors is amazing. The (under the radar) stuff, I can’t control, so I’m not too fussed about it. At the end of the day, I can go home and get Tiger Woods-esque attention there in my country. That’s the nature of it. He’s the top dog. He deserves it, with what he’s done. He’s coming back from injury. It’s a fantastic story and it’s good to be told.

"Does that make him play better golf on Thursday morning, or me? I’d better have an idea of what I’m trying to do. I’ve got some experience over 20 years of the highs and lows of sport. To be honest, you learn from losing. Winning is a habit. That’s the one thing that stands by me, which brings me to tremendous confidence. Some people have no understanding of losing. I’ve had to work my way through that."

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