Saturday 18 November 2017

I must win Major to make Ryder Cup – Harrington

Padraig Harrington at the launch of the development plan of the Confederation of Golf in Ireland (CGI) which outlines the future strategy for golf in Ireland with Anna Karolina (13) Brown from Tempelogue yesterday
Padraig Harrington at the launch of the development plan of the Confederation of Golf in Ireland (CGI) which outlines the future strategy for golf in Ireland with Anna Karolina (13) Brown from Tempelogue yesterday

Karl MacGinty

FUN is playing your 10-year-old son at crazy golf, no matter if, as Padraig Harrington reveals, "with his handicap, Paddy beat me!"

Frustration is the double-bogey, bogey finish to his first round at Quail Hollow that set Harrington trundling down the cliff path to his seventh missed cut in 11 tournaments.

Still, Harrington dismissed any suggestion of despair after a harrowing form slump that has sent him spiralling out of the world's top 200.

"I am frustrated," he admitted, adding defiantly: "but it doesn't matter. Frustration ain't going to win that battle. I am. I love playing, so I'm not going into TV commentary just yet!"

That's TV's loss, judging by Harrington's observations yesterday on Tiger Woods and the effect recent back surgery may have on the world No 1's lifelong bid to beat the record 18 Majors won by Jack Nicklaus.

"It could have one of two effects," said the Dubliner. "It could be good, like it was with (Jose Maria) Olazabal. When you've got a love of the game and it's been taken away from you, the excitement of coming back really could sharpen Tiger up again. That's the positive.

"The negative is he's getting to an age in life where these things are coming around too often.

"I still think he can beat Jack's record, but he doesn't want to keep having injuries. Time isn't running out for Tiger, but it's starting to shorten a bit. Certainly, having a break would keep him motivated, that's for sure. Injuries can be good in that sense."

Woods has "no idea" when he'll be able to return. As his operation took place in late March, suggestions that his recovery will take a minimum three months cast into doubt his prospects of playing the British Open at Hoylake in July.

Harrington rates the 2004 Open victory by Woods on the hard-baked Royal Liverpool links as his greatest-ever performance. "Nobody could have played the way Tiger did that week, laying up short of all the trouble. We were all afraid of playing a nine-iron (into greens) and he was doing it with a five-iron. It was phenomenal," he said.

SWASHBUCKLING

"He played great golf to win at Pebble Beach in 2000. That was swashbuckling, but Hoylake was a totally different way of playing. He was never out of position all week. It was defensive, but brilliant. Only he could have done it."

Waving away Tiger's feat in never being in a bunker at St Andrews during his record-breaking 2000 Open victory, Harrington said: "That has been done. Hoylake was like playing down a road and trying not to be in a bunker, it was that hard."

Does he believe Woods deserves to overtake Nicklaus? "I'm biased because I competed in Tiger's era, so I rate him as the greatest golfer that ever played the game. But I didn't compete with Jack," he said. "You know what, if he just matched the record, that'd be nice."

Conceding he must lift either the Claret Jug at Hoylake or win the US PGA at Valhalla to clinch a place at September's Ryder Cup, it's a measure of Harrington's unyielding optimism that he has not given up hope of playing on Paul McGinley's team at Gleneagles.

"There's one way of me getting into the Ryder Cup at this stage," he said. "That's winning a Major. I'm not going to get in by finishing eighth in the Byron Nelson next week, nice as that might be, or by making a couple of top 10s.

"It isn't a points-gathering situation. I must win so big that I can't be ignored. I'm not that far behind the position I was at this stage in 2008. I remember sitting with Nick Faldo at the Golf Writers Dinner on Tuesday at that year's Open. He said that, as much as I was a Major champion, he wanted me to show some real form.

"Well, I won at Royal Birkdale and Oakland Hills to make the team directly. So, I must win a Major championship, like I did in 2008. Or maybe two!"

Harrington admits poor putting, not helped by a dip in his chipping since box-grooves were banned in 2010, lies at the root of his recent problems. Yet the unstinting effort to find an answer to the riddle of his form continues unabated.

Ineligible for this week's Players Championship at Sawgrass, Harrington has been wringing every last shot out of the twilight at home in Rathmichael.

"The kids, Paddy and Ciaran, have gone to bed at that stage. It's great to have these long evenings," he said.

Irish Independent

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