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Padraig Harrington back among the Masters after Augusta

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Padraig Harrington: finished 8th at the Masters. Photo: Getty Images

Padraig Harrington: finished 8th at the Masters. Photo: Getty Images

Padraig Harrington: finished 8th at the Masters. Photo: Getty Images

A FAMOUS line from the movie 'Apocalypse Now' came to mind at the Masters as we watched that 'old' warhorse Padraig Harrington get a taste of the action at Augusta National.

It was uttered by Lt Colonel William 'Bill' Kilgore (played by Robert Duval) as he stood proud among the flying bullets in Vietnam and drew a deep draught of smoke-filled air.

"I love the smell of napalm in the morning," said Kilgore. "It smells of ... victory. You know son, some day this war is going to end." Then he looked away ruefully.

Well Harrington loves the smell of cordite on Sunday afternoon at the Majors ... the 40-year-old got a whiff of it at the weekend and you could tell how good it felt.

A share of eighth place at the Masters with Adam Scott and Justin Rose on four-under-par was the Dubliner's first top-10 finish at the Majors since the 2009 PGA Championship at Hazeltine.

It lifted him from 96th in the world to 80th, a ranking which still illustrates how far Harrington's star has fallen since marching to his third Major victory in 13 months at the 2008 PGA at Oakland Hills.

Yet after a deeply concerning string of five missed cuts in his previous eight Majors, a spell in which he broke par in just one of 22 rounds played, Harrington suddenly looked and performed like a contender once again at Augusta.

A final-round 72 left Harrington six strokes outside of the play-off, in which the left-hander Bubba Watson beat South Africa's 2010 British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen with a stroke of true genius out of trees to the right of the second tie hole, the 10th.

Even if he'd polished off all five birdie putts he missed from inside 10 feet in the final round, Harrington still would not have won the tournament.

His three-putt double bogey at 18 cost him outright seventh, which would have been worth $56,000 more than the $232,000 Harrington banked. So the promise of this Masters performance outweighed by far any frustration he felt.

* * * * *

"I actually do think this is a watershed week," Harrington confirmed, adding: "Not physically. I didn't hit the ball as well as I had in recent weeks. I was nowhere near on the same form.

"But I was much better mentally this week than I have been for a long time -- much sharper on my short game and much better all the way through on the mental side of the game. I could be in a very good place for the rest of the year."

Most of all, Harrington was pleased with how calm he felt on Sunday. A run of four birdies and one superb par-save (at 17) in the final five holes of Saturday's 68, his equal low score at the Masters, had sent him into the final round on a high, albeit five strokes behind Peter Hanson.

After two years in never-never land at the Majors, Harrington once again had the chance to measure himself and his game in the most rarefied atmosphere in golf. The last time he'd been at the summit, on Sunday at Hazeltine in 2009, it had all gone horribly wrong.

Then, Harrington's prospects of winning a second successive US PGA championship imploded on the par-three eighth hole as he racked up a nightmarish eight just seven days after a 'snowman' at Firestone's par-five 16th had cut short a thrilling head-to-head with Tiger for the Bridgestone World Championship of Golf. On Sunday, he was delighted by his own serenity and resolve.

"That's probably the most comfortable I've ever felt over 18 holes in the last round of a Major," Harrington explained.

"I was very calm, no highs and lows. I've won three Majors and I didn't feel like that on Sunday in any of them. I'll be happy if I play like that every Sunday at a Major because I'm going to win plenty of them if I play golf like that."

Harrington got within three of the lead as he played the first six holes in two-under on Sunday. Yet birdie putts he missed from six feet at the third, eight feet at five, four feet at seven, eight feet at 11 and 10 feet at 14 consistently kept him at arm's length from victory.

Anyone remotely familiar with Harrington's gift of being able to see the bright side of a black hole probably will smile knowingly at his assertion that: "I putted well, I just didn't hole them. I wasn't reading them right".

Yet he did indeed stroke the majority of his putts well on Sunday, even the ones he missed for birdie.

A change Harrington made to his action at Augusta, supposedly electing once again to hit putts with a cut, helped eliminate the fidgeting and doubt which had been such a worrying feature of his putting over the past 12 months.

Harrington's three-putt at the last, where he hit a 10-foot downhill putt five feet past the hole and missed the one back, was his only one all week. Meanwhile, the 113 putts he took over the 72 holes at Augusta left him tied 10th in the stats, six behind Phil Mickelson.

Harrington at last seems "to have turned the corner" with his putting, making him a contender once again.

"You have to be very careful when you win Major titles," he said. "You've hit such a high in your career that you want it all the time. I've seen guys who have won multiple Majors and all they want to do is win the next one. And that want sometimes can get in you. The key is to let it happen rather than going out there desperately wanting to win."

His patience may soon yield its reward.

Irish Independent