Pádraig banks on positive thinking

Pádraig Harrington’s biggest struggle this year has been finding a pair of trousers that fit him. Finding a jacket to match is the next step.

As he slowly sheds the extra weight that forced him to delve deep into the wardrobe in January, he’s already back to a 34-inch waist and feeling good about himself as he tees it up in his 14th Masters searching for that elusive fourth Major win.

Form is important in golf but, when it comes to Augusta National, it’s experience, nerve and mental strength that separates the also-rans from the real green jacket contenders.

Harrington is most certainly a contender on those fronts and while his form has been promising, if patchy, the 41-year-old has a quiet confidence about him that comes from the comforting knowledge that no matter what happens, he’s won three Majors already and may well win more.

“I think it is easier at Majors full stop,” he said this week. “There’s only three guys at the moment playing the game who have won more, that means the rest of the field are chasing me this week. I’ve already done it so I am under no stress, which is nice. There’s a lot of guys out there who are great players and fine players who would love to win three Majors. As I said, I have already done it and I can add to that total, which is very nice.

“I’ve achieved enough Majors that it far surpasses anything I would have expected or dreamed off when I was a kid and have the possibility to win more, which is a fantastic place to be and would be the envy of most players.”

On a more mundane level, Harrington is comforted by the fact that he doesn’t have to “read” the greens this week — his bugbear for several years — but can rely on memory and feel to find a route to the bottom of the cup.

For all the putting horrors last year, when he still finished eighth despite a closing double bogey and a plethora of missed putts, he looks more comfortable on the greens this time around. And while he’s also less than 100% with his wedges and chipping, he’s concentrating more on the mental game, having found a replacement for the favourite driver he broke in Thailand three weeks ago.

He looks almost certain to use a new TaylorMade R1 with a 45.5-inch shaft and a neutral setting in the head as opposed to the toe weighting set-up he had in his previous driver, which was a precaution against the pull or hook.

With that worry now out of the way, he can concentrate on the really important aspect of playing Augusta — the mental game.

Harrington practiced late into the evening on Monday and Tuesday so he could putt through the “long shadows” that he could face if he has a late tee time on Sunday afternoon.

The power of positive thinking goes a long way at Augusta, where disaster lurks at every turn.

“It’s purely mental, every day,” Harrington said. “The rest of the game will look after itself for sure if I putt well.”

Reflecting on last year, when he missed more than half a dozen putts inside 10 feet, he said: “Losing last year didn’t inspire me in any shape or form. I was disappointed to miss as many putts as I did through that day, I’ve got to putt better. That’s just it. Get a better attitude and hopefully I find it this week. I’m not coming in here having found it, I’m not buzzing about my putting, there is still a lot that needs to be done.

“You know, there are a lot of things that are a little bit up in the air but I am not panicking about it. I know better than that at this stage and we will see what game turns up on Thursday, hopefully it is the ‘A’ game. And we will prepare like it is going to be so we are ready to do battle if things fall into place and hopefully with nine holes to go I’ll be right in contention and I know how to win these things.”

As for the excess baggage that comes with past mistakes, he said of the course: “I love it. I don’t actually remember too much of what it has done to me. I feel good. I remember a lot of good things about it to be honest. I would be comfortable and looking forward to the week ahead.”

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