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Padraig Harrington has mixed memories of The Copperhead, where he shares the course record courtesy of a sensational 10-under-par 61 in 2012

Padraig Harrington has mixed memories of The Copperhead, where he shares the course record courtesy of a sensational 10-under-par 61 in 2012

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Padraig Harrington has mixed memories of The Copperhead, where he shares the course record courtesy of a sensational 10-under-par 61 in 2012

VICTORY at the Honda Classic literally has blasted Padraig Harrington out of the twilight on tour.

Instead of hitting the practice range long before dawn or trudging off the golf course in the dark, Harrington is back where a three-time Major champion should be, playing in prime time with the marquee groups.

In this morning's opening round of the Valspar Championship, for example, the Dubliner tees it up with pre-tournament favourites Adam Scott and up-and-coming star Jordan Spieth.

"Winning changes a lot of things," the 43-year-old explains. "I've played first or second off or second-last or last off every Thursday and Friday, that was my category on (the US PGA) Tour.

"So I've had a few events this year where I didn't get finished in the afternoon. I was either warming up in the dark or finishing in the dark at virtually every event.

EXEMPT

"Now I'm in the middle of the field. I have TV draws and am playing with the big names in the event. There are so many changes when you win. For a start, being exempt on Tour allows you set your schedule."

Harrington's five appearances on the US Tour in 2015 all have been on sponsors' invitations. Since losing his card last season, he wrote to tournaments around America and abroad as he tried to fill his playing schedule.

Apart from his status as a multiple Major-winner, the Irishman has always been so mindful of golf's corporate partners, he received an affirmative response to all but one of those requests - only Malaysia felt unable to offer him a spot.

As an invitee, Harrington would play Pro-Ams on Monday and Wednesday and probably attend another meet-and-greet session for sponsors. He still appears in Wednesday Pro-Ams of course but his tournament tee times are much more favourable and he's in the company of contenders.

"There's so many things that make like a lot easier for the tournament winners," he affirms. "Still, it's only a step on the road back. I ultimately want to see consistency of performance going forward and to challenge a bit more."

Ineligible for last weekend's Cadillac World Championship at Doral, Harrington took a precious week off after playing five straight tournaments.

This week's event at the Innesbrook Resort, not far from Tampa on Florida's gulf coast is followed in quick succession by next week's Arnie Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, then the Valero Texas and Shell Houston Opens.

Harrington's embossed invitation to The Masters arrived last Friday on foot of his first win on the PGA Tour since the US PGA in August 2008.

It was a thrill for Harrington, who describes missing out on Augusta last year as "horrifying. I watched it all on TV and that experience has made being back this year feel all the sweeter."

Harrington has mixed memories of The Copperhead, where he shares the course record courtesy of a sensational 10-under-par 61 in the first round in 2012. The following day, he his putter went ice-cold as he shot a 73.

He has since admitted having the yips in 2012 and the symptoms were plain to see that Friday as he followed a three-putt bogey at five by missing from 15 inches for par at six. Mercifully, last Monday week's win at PGA National made it plain he's as yip-free now as any of the afflicted can be.

Back to World No 80, Harrington sets out today with two important travelling companions, confidence and hope.

His ambition of winning his place at next year's Olympics and Ryder Cup are rejuvenated.

Scott's outlook also is good after achieving a fourth-place finish behind Dustin Johnson at Doral last Sunday in his first competitive outing of 2015, significantly as he played on Tour with a conventional putter for the first time four years.

The dramatic change the broom-handle made to Scott's career's is best gauged by his performance at the Majors. In the four years before he switched, the Australian failed to achieve one top-10 finish in 16 appearances in golf's ultimate arena.

However, in 16 Majors since picking up the long putter and anchoring it, a practice to be banned from next January, Scott (34) registered nine top-10s, including Australia's long-awaited first win at the Masters, two runner-up finishes and three other top-fives.

"For sure, I think too much of a big deal is being made of this," he said yesterday. "I won 16 events with a short putter in my career so it's not unfamiliar for me to putt with one, though for others it might be a big deal."

Valspar Championship

Live, Sky Sports 4, 7.00pm

Tshwane Open

Live, Sky Sports 4, 8.30am

Irish Independent