Saturday 10 December 2016

Harrington backs Tiger's Major drive

Karl MacGinty

Published 24/03/2011 | 05:00

Tiger Woods plays a shot during the pro-am round prior to the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Photo: Getty Images
Tiger Woods plays a shot during the pro-am round prior to the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Photo: Getty Images

As he cast a fond eye around shelves packed with glittering silverware and gilded memories, Padraig Harrington smiled and insisted space will need to be found for a few trophies more.

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Stackstown Golf Club yesterday officially opened 'The Harrington Room' in honour of their three-times Major champion, yet the Dubliner is determined not to let the dust settle on all those heavily laden trophy cabinets.

Harrington certainly doesn't view Tiger Woods as a museum piece either. He's convinced Woods is capable of returning to winning ways at this week's Arnold Palmer Invitational or the US Masters in Augusta National in a fortnight's time.

Indeed, Harrington firmly believes the 35-year-old will go on to beat the record 18 Major titles won by Jack Nicklaus.

Woods hasn't won in 19 tournaments since his return from self-imposed exile at last year's Masters and embarking on a complex swing change with new coach Sean Foley certainly has contributed to the longest barren spell of his career.

"I fully believe that Tiger is going to win plenty of tournaments," said Harrington. "I still believe he's going to get through that barrier of 18 Majors. Tiger's in the great position that if he turns up and plays well, he'll probably win.

Breaks

"A lot of other players have to turn up, play well and then maybe get a few breaks on top of it to win a tournament. He may not win as consistently as he did before, but who can tell?

"It's not inconceivable that he'll get hot again and have a year of 10 wins. He's won 14 Majors in 14 years -- that's a ratio of one a year and he'll probably keep on at that pace. If he gets a week where he holes a few putts, all of a sudden he'll be on top of the world again. That's all he needs; Tiger isn't that far away. I think you'd have to look long and hard to find a player who wouldn't swap their chances for his going into the US Masters at Augusta."

Despite his recent inconsistent form, Woods is the bookies' favourite to win at Bay Hill this week.

Six previous wins at Arnie Palmer's place, the most recent in 2009, suggest Tiger should be able to hold off Ulster's world No 4 Graeme McDowell, arch-rival Phil Mickelson and title-holder Ernie Els if he plays anywhere close to his true potential.

"The toughest thing about Bay Hill is the firmness of its greens. They make it a very demanding course," Harrington explained. "The strongest part of Tiger's game still is his iron play. That's why he's done so well there.

"He has got better distance control than most players with his irons so I imagine he'll be there or thereabouts on Sunday."

Harrington brushed aside a suggestion that Woods might have sustained irreparable mental damage as a result of his spectacular fall from grace.

Though he believes Woods has been rocked back by last year's decision to undergo a major revamp of his game for the third time in his career, the Dubliner fully understands his reasons for doing so.

"If you got back to '97, there's no way anybody could have driven the ball or probably have played as well as Tiger that year, yet he completely changed his swing," Harrington said. "Did he win more often? Yeah. Would he have won just as many with his '97 swing? Who knows?

"The problem was, he couldn't stay the same. He simply had to go and change and try and improve. At the moment, he's very much in the process of changing. So he can no longer turn up, have an average week and win. Like everyone else, he now has to have a good week to win.

"Tiger has a new coach, he's trying to improve and find understanding in his own game. While in that process, he'll not have the consistency of old but he'll still be capable of having high performances."

Harrington was motivated in precisely the same way to embark on swing changes after winning his third Major title in 13 months at the 2008 US PGA. He's won only once in a world-ranking event since then (in Johor, Malaysia, last October) and even though Harrington agreed this season "has not gone as well as I'd have liked in terms of results" he added: "I've never been happier with my game."

Due to return to action at next week's Shell Houston Open, Harrington (39) said: "At no other stage in my career have I had a better understanding of my game. I'm in the prime of my career and exceptionally motivated. I believe, absolutely, the best has yet to come."

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