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Harrington can't relax just yet

Friday, April 01, 2011

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One day, Padraig Harrington will fully appreciate the Masters Tournament.

Padraig Harrington, winner of the 2008 British Open and PGA titles, walks on the eighth fairway during the second round of the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship in Doral, Fla. Harrington is still looking for the form he had in his banner year. (Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff)

That probably won't be for a long time, though. He's too busy with the challenge of improving his golf swing, and learning the best way to play Augusta National Golf Club each year.

"I wish I could just look around," the three-time major champion said of Augusta National. "I like the idea of some day I'd like to sit in the backyard and have a beer and look out and watch everybody else under pressure. But at the moment, I tend to run around. I'm the guy trying to get everything covered. It's easy to miss things because there is a lot of work there."

At age 39 and with 11 Masters starts, Harrington is enjoying the Masters experience more each year. "As I get mature, I'm a bit more relaxed. I do take more things in."

Instead of sitting in his backyard with a beer when his playing days are over, Harrington could sit on the Augusta National veranda with a cold beverage and watch the activity below him -- if he wins the Masters. With it goes a lifetime invitation to play in the tournament.

Harrington has already won two of the four major championships (the 2007 and 2008 British Opens and the 2008 PGA Championship).

His form, however, on the European Tour and in the Masters Tournament, was off in 2009 and 2010.

Harrington (Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff)

Harrington, who won the Race to Dubai (the European Tour's money list) in 2006, finished 15th in 2009 and 20th in 2010 on that list.

Likewise, in the Masters he followed top-10 finishes in 2007 and 2008 with a tie for 35th in 2009 and a missed cut (74-75) last year.

Harrington was not able to capitalize when the setup and weather made scores soar in 2007, or when the course played considerably easier the past three years.

"I like it both ways," Harring-ton said. "It's nice at different times. If we played the same course every time, it would be no fun. It's good to have it tough some years. It's good to have a little bit of you don't know what to expect. That's the great thing about Augusta.

"They can basically tell us what score we're going to shoot," Harrington said. "If they want us to shoot 10-over par, we're going to shoot 10-over par. If they want level par, it will be level par, and if they want 20-under par, they can do that too. They are in total control, so we never know what to expect."

Augusta National "is the most fantastic course, it's forever changing, it's very intimidating," Harrington said. "There is a lot of pressure there. A lot of shots have to be hit. It's tough that way. You've got to have all parts of your game. You've got to hit it long, you've got to hit it straight, you've got to have control of your iron shots and you've got to have a great short game, so it does ask all the questions."

Just as the Augusta National changes each year, so does Harrington's golf swing. Despite winning 21 events worldwide, he is still working on making his swing better.

"I've always been changing. Since 16 years of age, I've been changing all the time. Always changing. I've made some massive changes at times," Harrington said, referring to 1998 when he and instructor Bob Torrance "changed the complete look of my golf swing."

"I was changing my swing when I won the three majors," he said. "Before, during, and after. I will always be continuing to do that."

Because of his high profile and that he's often asked about his swing changes, Harrington thinks he's singled out as an extreme tinkerer.

"But every player out there is working on their swing," he said. "So we're all trying to get better to different degrees."

Harrington has lacked consistency in his tournament results the past two years, and so far this year. In January, he opened with 65 in the first round of the Abu Dhabi Championship but was disqualified after it was deemed he had illegally moved his ball while marking it.

"What was frustrating for me about last year was that I actually played very well on Tuesdays and Wednesdays," he said. "And I might have played well on Thursday, but if I did play well Thursday, Friday, when I had expectations, my game went off.

"Like, I had a number of people who would come out and watch me play at different times, and they are looking at me playing on a Tuesday and Wednesday, and I'm striping it and they are just thinking, 'Wow, he's going to win this week' and I end up missing the cut.

"The frustration was the (lack of) consistency in it ... the interesting thing about the game of golf is we are always trying to figure out how to not hit our worst shot," he said.

Reach David Westin at (706) 823-3224 or david.westin@augustachronicle.com.

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