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Old 03-23-2005, 04:32 PM
dangeris dangeris is offline
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Default Harrington may miss Masters

Harrington may miss Masters
23/03/2005 - 16:53:11

Europe’s top golfer Padraig Harrington is not a certain starter in the Masters in two weeks’ time.

The Dubliner, winner of his first US Tour title in spectacular fashion on March 13, is back in Florida for the Players’ Championship starting tomorrow - only because his father, battling with cancer of the oesophagus, said he wanted to watch him on television.

“I certainly didn’t want to come,” said Harrington.

Rather than staying on for the BellSouth Classic in Atlanta, however, he will fly home immediately after this week’s event – at £4.5m (€6.5m) the richest in the sport – and will then make a decision on the first major of the season.

“Unfortunately there is a chance I could miss it. I don’t want to, and my intention is to come.”

Harrington’s 72-year-old father Paddy, a former policeman and outstanding Gaelic footballer, is currently in hospital.

The world number six has finished second in the Players – often called golf’s unofficial fifth major – for the last two years, but in the circumstances a repeat of that would be quite remarkable.

He is doing all he can, though, to put on as good a show as he can.

“I have spoken to Bob Rotella [his American sports psychologist] and at the end of the day I’ve not got to have any excuses for playing and doing my job,” he said.

“If I don’t win it’s not going to be a burden, but there’s no point going out there and making a couple of bogeys and wanting to go home.

“He is at home wanting to watch it, and it’s only because of that that I’m here. The decision was made in the middle of last week.”

The family situation is not the only reason, however, that there has been no massive celebration of Harrington’s latest victory – achieved at the Honda Classic with a course record-equalling 63 in the last round and then the defeat of world number one Vijay Singh in a play-off.

“I don’t put it down as a breakthrough win,” he said.

“A lot of people have said I’ve broken my duck, but I didn’t have a monkey on my back. I’d had 10 wins before and was very comfortable with what I’ve been doing.

“I’m not going to say I’m a different player because I won, either. Singh could have holed a putt, and people then would have put it down as my 27th runners-up spot. If I had finished second, though, I’d be just as happy about my game as I am.”

What it means about this week, though, is that it adds to the expectation - especially on a course where Harrington was the closest challenger to Davis Love two years ago and last March played the last five holes in five under to put the heat on Adam Scott.

The young Australian nearly buckled, hitting his second shot to the last into water – but a six-foot putt gave him a one-stroke success.

"Obviously other people's expectations of me have got to be high and I have to be very careful to stay on a level keel,'' Harrington said.

Right from the start of his career Harrington has been exceptionally good at that. And his father played a big part in his early development.

“I’ve had the best possible background for playing golf, for playing all sports. I couldn’t have got more encouragement from my dad without ever in any sense pushing or wanting to live his life through my sports.

“It was top-notch. When I was growing up my dad was a very competitive, very intelligent player and he just taught me the art of scoring. He would never tell me how to swing the club, but encouraged me to score well and at the end of the day that’s really where my talents lie.”

Harrington is one of 19 Europeans competing this week.

The top 50 in the world are all present, the first time that has happened since the 2002 US PGA championship, and Ernie Els and Tiger Woods can both unseat Singh as world number one.

Woods did that earlier this month before being passed again this Sunday, but Els has not been at the top since June 1998 and because of that it means most to him.

The South African has to win, though, whereas simply finishing ahead of Singh could be sufficient for Woods.

Of the three Woods is the only one to have been triumphant in the event. That was in 2001 when the tournament spilled into Monday and he beat Singh by a shot.

With a forecast of thunderstorms during the week there is the danger of an extra day being necessary again.

Woods, meanwhile, has had his driver tested to see if it conformed to the rules. It did, but the fact that fellow player Tom Pernice asked for the test - carried out last week during the Bay Hill Invitational – has not surprisingly become a talking point.

“It’s supposed to be confidential, but that’s fine. I don’t care,” stated Pernice after his name leaked out.

“I was watching (the Ford Championship) on TV and I knew it was a new driver. Nothing against Tiger, but I was just surprised how far he was hitting it past Phil (Mickelson).

“If someone wanted to test my driver I’d be honoured. With new equipment you never know.”

Woods commented: “It wasn’t even close. I didn’t ask who it was – they’re not supposed to tell. It doesn’t matter.”

Paul Casey has flown straight from winning in China to the tournament and will be preparing himself not just for a far stiffer test, but also for the possibility of more heckling.

The Stadium Course is one of golf’s noisiest venues, especially around the island green 17th, and while officials were not prepared to say they have made special security arrangements it is almost certain they have following Casey’s anti-American comments late last year.

One fan was ejected at the Ford Championship after targeting the Surrey golfer.
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