Harrington in late bid to qualify for Masters
Published 31/03/2016 | 02:30
Pádraig Harrington needs to strike oil in the Shell Houston Open if he is to earn a place in the field for the Masters at Augusta next week.
Harrington, who first played at Augusta in 2000, missed the cut in the Masters last year, and did not qualify in 2014.
He also missed the cut in 2013, and his last notable performance in the traditional first Major of the season came in 2012, when he finished eighth.
Whatever about his past at Augusta National, Harrington refuses to give up hope until the last putt has dropped in his bid to tee it up in Georgia next week.
The problem is that only a win in Houston can earn him a 16th Masters appearance, and that is a tall order given the presence of Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and the usual strong PGA Tour field.
A two-time winner of the Open Championship, and a former US PGA champion, Harrington would love to get his hands on another Major title, particularly the Masters.
Reality suggests it is unlikely, but it is certainly not impossible, although Harrington admits the pressure to add a win on Tour early in the season can creep insidiously into the mind.
"The only way I can win the Masters is to win twice: I have to win one tournament to get in, and then I have to win it.
"That's the same with the Ryder Cup and the Olympics; I have to win first to put them on the horizon.
"Maybe that's an issue, that all I'm thinking about is winning.
"At times I'm getting caught up in the result rather than if I just played away and added it all up, I'd be better off," said Harrington.
Shane Lowry failed to get out of his group in the WGC-Dell Match Play at Austin, Texas, last week and he will welcome the chance to return to the strokeplay format.
Lowry will make only his second appearance in the Masters next week. Last year, on his debut, he missed the cut but is now a year older and wiser.
The Offaly native also has the memories of carving out a victory in the 2015 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational lodged in his psyche, and he knows he can mix it with the best of them on the Tour.
The two Irishmen in the field have quality playing partners for their first two rounds at the Golf Club of Houston in Humble, Texas.
Lowry hits off the first tee at 12.40pm local time (6.40pm Irish) in the company of 2009 Open champion Stewart Cink and three-time Major winner Vijay Singh.
Harrington gets into action off the 10th tee at 1.10pm (7.10pm Irish) alongside Angel Cabrera, who won the 2007 US Open and the '09 Masters, and Australia's Matt Jones, the 2014 Shell Houston Open winner.
The tournament holder is JB Holmes, who last year held off the challenge presented by Jordan Spieth and Johnson Wagner in a play-off.
It was Holmes' fourth PGA Tour win, and he knows that retaining his title will be difficult.
"First of all, all the guys out here are really good golfers. It's hard to win a tournament, period, much less certain one every year at the same time.
"And also usually defending, you'll have expectations and lot of times, you have to do extra stuff for the week, just because you're defending champion.
"If you're not careful you can start thinking about last year and, 'Oh, I won that tournament', so you can definitely get ahead of yourself.
"It's a different challenge than normal and it's just really hard to win anyways.
"If you're not careful you can put too much expectations on yourself instead of just going out there and having a good time and just enjoying the tournament," said Holmes.
Meanwhile, Irish Olympic hopefuls Leona Maguire and Stephanie Meadow play today in the ANA Inspiration, the LPGA Tour's first Major of the season at Mission Hills Country Club.
Maguire, 21, the top women's amateur in the world, and Meadow, who turned professional in 2014, can boost their Olympic ranking points with good performances in the tournament.
Waterford's Seamus Power competes in the Brasil Champions, a Web.Com Tour event, in Sao Paolo.
LPGA ANA Inspiration, Live, Sky Sports 4, 5.00pm
Shell Houston Open, Live, Sky Sports 4, 9.00pm