Copperhead the ideal setting for Harrington to reel in young bucks
Youth certainly has been having its fling on the US Tour this season but don't be too surprised if the 40-somethings come roaring back this weekend on the classic, tree-lined Copperhead Course at Tampa's Innisbrook Resort.
One guy likely to feel a good vibe heading to the tee at the Valspar Championship this afternoon is Ireland's Padraig Harrington (42), course record-holder at the Copperhead after shooting a superlative 61 two years ago.
After five-and-a-half frustrating years without a Tour win either in the US or Europe, a change of luck is long overdue for Dublin's three-time Major-winner, currently wallowing at 147th in the world.
Harrington was desperately unfortunate to miss his fourth cut in five events at The Honda. Needing par at his final hole on Friday, the Irishman missed the bus when he called a penalty on himself after inadvertently moving his ball on the pine straw.
Harrington stayed at PGA National that weekend to work with coach Pete Cowen and mind guru Dr Bob Rotella and is unswerving in his conviction that his game and psyche are in good enough shape to end his long drought.
Copperhead could be the perfect place for him to prove it. The course certainly fits Harrington's eye, as he proved during that faultless first round in 2012, when he landed 10 birdies, including a phenomenal hat-trick at the infamous 'Snake Pit', holes 16, 17 and 18.
He actually holed the biggest putt of his career, a stunning 75-footer, at the par three 17th that Thursday. For sure, pulling off a win this week would be an infinitely longer shot for Harrington but his ball-striking and putting have been good enough recently to make even the most committed naysayer think twice.
Young players have dominated recently. Precocious Patrick Reed's victory at the Cadillac World Golf Championship was the fourth by a golfer under 25 this season, while players in their 20s have won an unprecedented 11 of 17 events on this year's US schedule.
Neither Reed nor Rory McIlroy are in Tampa but the younger brigade are well represented by recent Honda hero Russell Henley (24), the prodigious Jordan Spieth (20), powerful Harris English (24) Quail Hollow champ Derek Ernst (23), last Sunday's Puerto Rico Open victor Chesson Hadley (26), 2012 Us Open kingpin Webb Simpson and European regulars Brooks Koepka (23), Peter Uihlein, (24), and Matteo Manassero (20).
Luke Donald (36) winner here in 2012, and reigning Major champions Justin Rose and Jason Dufner, also can be fancied. Yet, statistically, the failure of any player in his 40s to win thus far on the 2013/'14 US schedule must soon be amended.
Jim Furyk, Copperhead king in 2010, is an obvious candidate, but Irish eyes will fall on Harrington and Darren Clarke, though the 2011 British Open champ's confidence appears to have shrunk with his waist.
England's Ross Fisher, Spain's Pablo Larrazabal and George Coetzee of South Africa are widely fancied to follow up recent long-awaited wins on the European Tour and engage in a battle royal at this weekend's Trophee Hassan II inside the palace walls in Agadir.
Yet don't be surprised if Michael Hoey, runner-up to Fisher at the Tshwane Open, and the man he pipped on Morocco's Atlantic Ocean shore in 2012, Damien McGrane, engage in another fascinating All-Ireland duel for the precious jewel-encrusted dagger.
TROPHEE HASSAN II,
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Tournament Trophee Hassan II, Golf du Palais Royal, Agadir, Morocco
Course length 6,951 (Par72)
Purse €1.5m (Winner: €250,000)
Champion Marcel Siem(-17)
Course note With respect to Pine Valley, Cypress Point and Augusta National, this Robert Trent Jones gem is the world’s most exclusive course. Designed for King Hassan II, father of the current monarch it lies within the palace walls in Agadir and usually is played only by the Moroccan Royal Family and guests
Irish in action S Lowry, M Hoey (winner 2012), S Thornton, D McGrane (2nd 2012), P Lawrie, P McGinley, K Phelan, D Higgins
Betting 16/1 D Horsey, G Coetzee, R Fisher, 18 M Ilonen, 25 P Larrazabal, B Wiesberger, R Cabrera-Bello. Also: 33 M Hoey, C Wood, S Dyson, 66 S Lowry, 80 D McGrane
Selection George Coetzee. NB : MHoey. EW :D McGrane
Tournament Valspar Championship, Innisbrook Copperhead, Palm Harbor, Florida
Course length 7,340 yards (Par 71)
Purse $5.7m (Winner: $1.026m)
Champion Kevin Streelman (-10)
Course note Nestled in a pine forest, this undulating beauty features the Snake Pit, which statistically is tougher than the Bear Trap at Honda. It starts at 16, a 475 yard par four which doglegs right around a lake; followed by a 215 yard par three and a fabulous uphill par four. Padraig Harrington shot a course record 61 here in 2012
Irish in action D Clarke, P Harrington (After his course record on Thursday in 2012, Harrington finished T20 behind winner Luke Donald)
Betting 16/1 H English, 18 J Spieth, 20 L Donald, M Kuchar, 25 J Dufner, J rose, 28 W Simpson, B Haas, J Furyk, 33 G Delaet, G Woodland. Also: 100 P Harrington, 500 D Ernst
Selection Webb Simpson. NB: Harris English. EW Derek Ernst