The Honda Classic specialist Harrington confident as ever
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Padraig Harrington is 51, but he arrives for The Honda Classic in South Florida in much the same way he did in his first full year on the PGA TOUR in 2005 at Marisol and in the same way he did 10 years later at PGA National.
He’s here to win, just as he did 18 years ago for his first PGA TOUR victory and just as he did eight years ago for his sixth and last TOUR win.
“Honda always tries to set up a very tough venue,” Harrington said last week before the PGA TOUR Champions Chubb Classic. “PGA National is one of the toughest courses on the TOUR. They’ve always wanted a championship – put it like that. And that suits me – a bigger, stronger test.
“I think PGA National … a lot of players don’t turn up because they don’t want to test their game in that format. It is very difficult. It can be extremely penal. You’ve got to be on top of not just your physical game but your mental game. But I like that challenge.”
As Harrington moved into his late 40s, his belief in his game began to wane. It’s not an unfamiliar refrain with players at that age. The PGA TOUR is deep, and it’s mostly a young man’s game. As players get further away from their last victory, the confidence simply isn’t the same.
For Harrington, this is where PGA TOUR Champions comes in. The Irishman played in 19 events last year after turning 50. He won four times and finished runner-up another four times. Add in two third place finishes and two fourths, and he was in contention 12 times. He was feeling like his younger self again, brimming with confidence and believing all he had to do was put his peg in the ground to have a chance to win.
His swing speed shows no signs of decline. He led PGA TOUR Champions in driving distance at 308.7 yards; no one else was within 10 yards. Equally as important, he started putting well again, another part of his game which he said had caused him to struggle a few years ago.
Now, fresh off a tie for second at the Chubb, Harrington is not here merely to hope for a top-20 result and some media plaudits. He’s here to add a third Honda title to a resume that includes three major championships.
Olin Browne, who played in the group with Harrington on Sunday, says there’s every reason to believe Harrington can win.
“First of all, he’s a multiple major champion. He’s earned that,” Browne said. “He has won on all the hardest courses that we have to offer on our tour (Champions). He won the U.S. Senior Open at Saucon Valley.
“He hits the ball a mile. Still. Actually, not still. He hits it farther than he did when he was on TOUR. And he hits the ball vertically when he wants to. The eagle he made on the last hole (on Sunday), you couldn’t draw it up any better. He bombed a tee shot down there then hit a towering 4-iron – I can’t hit a wedge that high – and it landed just over the bunker with a cut and stopped about 16 feet and he taps that in.”
Harrington finished with a 7-under 65 that included a double bogey. The PGA TOUR Champions has allowed him to find a comfort level that had been missing.
“The PGA TOUR is difficult with the depth of the field,” Harrington said. “A player over 50 … people pat themselves on the back for finishing 15th, which is rubbish. You have to be feeling it coming down the stretch on Sunday. That’s the biggest key in golf. My sole goal is with nine holes to go to have a chance.
“My game on Champions Tour last year … no cut, no stress levels, pretty much know I’m going to have a chance on Sunday afternoon. I know I’m going to be in it. Your whole outlook is different for the week when you know you’re jockeying for position. Sometimes on PGA TOUR if things don’t fall into place in the first nine holes on Thursday you’re thinking about the cut on Friday.”
Harrington bristled at the suggestion that he’d need to be clicking on all cylinders to win at the Honda, or anywhere else on the PGA TOUR.
“I don’t need to play my best to win,” Harrington said. “My game is plenty good to win if some parts are good. Four, five, six years ago, I would have fallen into that trap. I wasn’t putting well, struggling on the greens. Every week I was thinking I need a big week to contend.
“Now I know I just need to turn up with the game I have and I’ll have a chance of winning. I’m not turning up looking for my game. My game is already good enough. If the right things happen, I’ll have that chance with nine holes. And nobody knows with that chance. You might play great and lose or be in the right place at the right time. I’m pretty similar to back in the frame of mind that we would have talked about in 2005. I was getting in contention doing the right thing, and I wasn’t searching. I was trusting what I had.”
Harrington said he was ultra-confident in 2005 because of his success on the European Tour. He had nine wins and 29 second place finishes before committing to play a full schedule on the PGA TOUR. He said he’ll see how it goes at the Honda but noted that he might play a few more times on the PGA TOUR than he originally planned.
“My schedule is outrageous,” Harrington said. “I have the European Tour, I have the Champions Tour. I love playing the Champions Tour. At the end of the day the only thing that interests me is winning. There’s nothing else. I’d prefer to win on Champs than to finish second on the regular TOUR. I’d get more kudos for finishing second, but I won’t remember finishing second.
“You’re far better off winning wherever you are. That’s the No. 1 rule for me. I have to be able to win. I’ll play a few European events and I’m definitely capable of winning there.”
Harrington said some events on the PGA TOUR surprisingly had opened to him. The non-elevated events are still looking for marquee names.
“They might be a good player, but they don’t have the name I have,” Harrington said. “So the first time ever some of that’s coming to me. I have a lot of choice, that’s basically what it’s coming down to. I’ll see how I feel. If I miss the cut at Honda, I’m not going to say I’m not good enough. I’ll play a few PGA TOUR events. If I think I’m good enough to win, I’ll hang around. If I think I’m only good enough to finish 15th, I’ll just stop now. I don’t want to chase my tail on the PGA TOUR. I’m not interested in playing for the money. I’ll have a look, see what it’s like, see if my game is stacking up and is as good as think it is. Then if not, I’ll enjoy myself on the Champions Tour.”