IT'S like chasing the dragon. With three Major titles to his name, Padraig Harrington knows all about the ultimate high in golf, but now, the sport he loves tortures, teases and tantalises him.
The Dubliner today returns to another of his favourite courses, Riviera Country in Pacific Palisades, for the first round of the Northern Trust Open knowing that victory alone will be enough to reignite his career.
After 66 months without a win on either the US or European Tours and wallowing at 133rd in the world, Harrington must finish first in this affluent Los Angeles neighbourhood or on one of several more PGA Tour stops he makes before April if he's to earn his Masters place.
Also ineligible for lucrative World Championships like next week's Accenture Match Play or the upcoming Cadillac at Doral, even a long-awaited PGA Tour victory would not propel him back into the world's top 50.
Harrington's hopes of playing in June's US Open or reviving his ever-decreasing prospects of playing on Paul McGinley's European team at September's Ryder Cup rest squarely on a speedy return to elite top-50 status.
Working strongly in the Irishman's favour as he engages in a feverish, week-by-week pursuit of former glories is his enduring passion for playing golf, albeit unrequited.
Entering his fifth event of 2014, there are unmistakable signs of revival in Harrington's game, though each step forward appears to be followed by a frustrating reverse.
A share of fifth in last month's Volvo Golf Champions at Durban Country Club, was followed by missed cuts in Abu Dhabi and then Phoenix, while Harrington played impressive in patches on his way to a modest 27th-place finish at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
Last Saturday, just as he appeared to be forcing his way into contention, Harrington frittered away six shots and any prospect of victory during an awful three-hole stretch at Monterey Peninsula, starting with a bogey four out of a greenside bunker at 11, then a calamitous triple-bogey eight at 12 and an ugly double-bogey six at 13.
The 42-year-old still threw himself, heart and soul, into his final round at Pebble Beach in an effort to exact the best possible finish for himself and amateur partner JP McManus in the Pro-Am.
They managed to tie 11th, with 13-handicap McManus contributing handsomely as his professional partner posted an even-par 72.
The most exasperating feature of Harrington's final day at Pebble Beach was the perplexing mix of truly great, distinctly mediocre or downright unlucky strokes he played. The Irishman is crying out for consistency.
He short-sided himself badly on the right with a poor rescue club off the tee at 12, but then belied recent frustration with his short game by getting up-and-down brilliantly from deep rough to save par.
Harrington was unlucky when an excellent approach to 15 covered the flag but ran out to 12 feet, leading to par when birdie was deserved.
Harrington (below) shot 63 in his first round at Riviera in 2007 and tied third here the following year, though he's broken 70 only once in 14 rounds as he missed the cut in three of his last five appearances.
Might this be an appropriate week to rediscover the missing ingredient, trust – or will he simply continue his exasperating march down Sunset Boulevard?
Darren Clarke returns to competitive action at Riviera today after three weeks recovering from a chest muscle injury.
Michael Hoey skipped the Joburg Open last week to play the Africa Open at East London, where he finished second to Retief Goosen in 2009. The Ballymoney native perhaps offers the most viable challenge to the South Africans, recently rampant on their home turf, if, as expected, the ocean winds blow this weekend.
LIVE, SKY SPORTS 4, 8.30AM & 1.30PM NORTHERN TRUST OPEN,
LIVE, SKY SPORTS 4, 8.0PM