Out of focus at the Masters

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AUGUSTA, Ga. – One of the most popular stories coming out of Augusta National so far this week is that Padraig Harrington and his quest for the PaddySlam is not the most popular story heading into the Masters.

That designation, of course, belongs to Tiger Woods, Fixed Left Knee and Co., a reality Harrington said Tuesday he’s – hold on to your hats! – “not too fussed about.”

Had Woods won the last two majors, the pressroom at Augusta National would be jam-packed with a combination of TNT and TST (Tiger Slam, Two) talk – not that anyone with a media credential or not would consider a Tiger victory this Sunday anything but dynamite.

For Woods, it would be his second major championship in as many starts, leaving writers and commentators bemused as to what then call his attempt at another four in a row.

(SurgerySlam, anyone?)

To be sure, all this slam stuff is spinning out of control, God slam it.

“What’s all this about the PaddySlam?” Lee Westwood asked Harrington Monday. “Are you starting up wrestling?”

If there’s anything you should know about Harrington, 1.) He’s more Ben Hogan than Hulk Hogan; and 2.) He wrestles himself – and only himself.

“I do fear (my opponents),” said Harrington, a few minutes after exiting the Masters press building, where he sat in for an 11 a.m. press conference.

“But I fear myself more.”

While that’s more or less the company line from Harrington, it’s also the truth. Harrington is only in his own head, a perfect example of that coming after the second round of last year’s PGA Championship when he finished his round bogey-bogey, shot 74 and said:

• “It was a struggle for me.”

• “I did my best to be ready for the week but clearly I’m not.”

• “I haven’t got the focus this week.”

• “I’m just not with it.”

• “I’m still just having a hangover after winning the Open.”

Two days later, you might remember, he won his third major championship in two years and his second in two months.

“In the end, I’m always fighting with myself,” Harrington said Tuesday.

“That’s it. I’m always competing with myself. So I’m trying to better myself all the time. ... It’s a bad mental outlook to be focusing on another person. The only person you focus on is you.”

During Tuesday’s press conference, one writer mentioned that Harrington had done “a pretty good job of staying under the radar,” considering his slow start to the 2009 season.

When asked about the small gallery that followed him during his practice round late Monday, Harrington only said “I was playing at 5 o’clock in the evening and it was cold.”

Harrington isn’t preoccupied with winning his third consecutive major, only his fourth major. He stills calls the majors he’s won “a dream come true” and doesn’t care when he wins the Masters, only that he wins it someday.

“It doesn’t have to happen now,” he said. “I’m not going to put myself under that pressure.”

There, in fact, seems to exist an impossibility of Harrington ever letting anyone other than himself put the pressure on. Harrington said the most pressure comes from just knowing he’s won majors before, knowing there is a chance he “can be in control of ... winning.”

The attention doesn’t have anything to do with it. Harrington gets the “Tiger Woods-esque” treatment in Ireland. He knows what fans want from him, even expect from him.

“I’ve gone from golf icon (in Ireland), to sports icon with winning one majors, to probably a general one, winning three majors,” he said.

Woods spoke Tuesday during his press conference about how the odds of winning four consecutive majors, explaining how difficult it is to have your game come together for four specific weeks and catch the right breaks those same weeks.

“People don’t realize, just one gust of wind here or there is a shot that you don’t think it could happen, cost you the tournament on Thursday,” said Woods.

Woods has also been known to cost opponents tournaments, one factor Harrington hasn’t had to deal with the last two times – which, in the end, is the only reason Harrington isn’t the story this week.

Beat the story, become the story.

Right?

“Tiger, obviously when you get to the bigger stage, he is the top dog and he deserves the attention with what he’s done, and he’s coming back from injury, it’s a fantastic story and it’s good to be told. That’s what gets out there.

“Does that make him play better golf on Thursday morning, or me? No.”

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