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AUGUSTA, Ga. – It was a year ago when Padraig Harrington strolled to the 10th tee for a Tuesday practice session at 3:50 p.m. Hours later, even as icons named Palmer and Nicklaus, Player and Watson were filing into the clubhouse for the traditional Champions’ Dinner, the Irishman still was making his way along the closing holes to Augusta National’s famed back nine.
It was exhausting just to watch him play those nine holes in perhaps a little more than 3 1/2 hours, so to prepare for the 2011 edition of the Masters, Harrington was asked if he were ready for a similar workout.
“That was a one-off,” he said. “All my work has been done.”
Hearing him say that, you may have choked on your pimento sandwich, but relax, Harrington is not morphing into Carlos Franco. Nor is he any less maniacal than you’ve come to expect. Instead, the Irishman was saying his 11 visits to the Masters have him adequately prepared, and for proof he reached into his back pocket and unfolded his yardage book and what came out were legal-sized pieces of paper that had been folded three or four times. Sketches of every green at Augusta National were on those pieces of papers and notations “of every putt I’ve ever hit,” he said.
Indeed, arrows were drawn, indicating breaks, and he had certain markings to indicate which putts were faster than others. That served to jolt the memory from Harrington’s back-nine trek in 2010 and the image of a level being placed on various parts of the green, just to reassure the way in which the greens broke, came into view.
A level? No wonder Harrington could draw arrows and other notations, and it’s no wonder he can suggest that his work is done, that it’s all a matter of focusing “on the job at hand.”
What enters the equation at this point is the reality that after winning three of the six majors from the 2007 British Open to the 2008 PGA, he has missed the cut in four of eight majors and been top 10 just once. Yet don’t suggest that that represents a temperature of where Harrington stands with his game, because he insists he is a better player than when he won those two Open Championships and one PGA.
His results say otherwise? Harrington can merely shrug.
“I have expectations. There’s no doubt about it,” Harrington said. “What I’m trying to make sure is (that) I take those expectations and spread them out over time. Rather than take the, ‘Hey look, I’m here and I should do this or I should do that (attitude),’ I’m thinking I understand my game.”
Harrington is aware of the observations and critiques, that some people think he’s too analytical, too much of a tinkerer, but guess what? He loves that about himself and he isn’t about to apologize for the two-hour session he spent Monday with Dr. Bob Rotella, the sports psychologist.
“I always get something out of it. Always. Always,” Harrington said. “I’ve been doing the 101 stuff; now we can get on to the next stage. You’d be amazed.”
He then paused, locked eyes with a group of reporters, and repeated, “You’d be amazed at what we can (get done).”
Convinced that he doesn’t need to play 3 1/2 hours on the back nine as he did a year ago, Harrington said that is not to suggest he won’t practice. He said Augusta National remains a fascinating place, one that he never gets tired of studying. For instance, “I could spend an hour hitting pitch shots onto the 15th (green),” he said, but on the other hand, after 11 years he doesn’t feel the need “to hit 10 chips onto every green.”
Told that Phil Mickeslon, the three-time winner and defending champion, promotes an aggressive game plan as the most effective way to play Augusta National, Harrington smiled.
“I think Phil would like everyone to play his game. He’d be very happy if everyone played as aggressively as him because he does it rather well.”
But Harrington conceded that Mickelson made a valid point.
“Unlike other majors, it is possible, but not every year, to come down the back nine here and have to play in 4- or 5-under par to win the tournament,” Harrington said.
“That’s a non-event in every other major. In every other major, if you play the back nine in level par, you’re gaining by leaps and bounds. But that’s not set in stone; there are years when level par back nine will win you the Masters.”
Having missed the cut a year ago and placed T-35 in 2009, Harrington is not offended to be left out of talk when it focuses on possible favorites. That Mickelson – and not Tiger Woods – seems to dominate such talk is understandable, too, though Harrington is not conceding anything, even to the left-hander.
“I’d be very happy,” Harrington said, “if I’m the guy who makes him play (aggressively). That would be my goal.”