Pádraig’s swing is back in sync

FOR what seems like the umpteenth time in the past few months, Pádraig Harrington attempts to revive his ailing golf career.

While it is undoubtedly the case his season has faltered largely because of his swing changes, it is equally the case he needs to do something positive soon.

This week’s World Golf Championship (WGC) Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, Akron, Ohio, followed by the US PGA Championship at Hazeltine, Minnesota, are the two most important tournaments left on his 2009 schedule. And he if he fails to make a serious impression, the reality is that his world ranking (he has dropped from 3rd to 17th this year) will take another hammering and his prospects of qualifying for either of the lucrative, season ending events on the US and European Tours, the Fed-Ex Cup and the Race to Dubai, will be remote.

However, Harrington can see a ray of light no matter how dark the horizon and why he is able to smile when he misses a vital putt, gets a bad bounce or whatever.

More importantly, he has set off for the States and these two all-important tournaments claiming that, unlike U2, “I’ve found what I’ve been looking for”.

He claims to be positive and optimistic while accepting that in itself is no guarantee of vastly improved performances over the next couple of weeks.

Having already relinquished his grip on the British Open Championship’s Claret Jug, he has no intention of letting go of the US PGA’s Wannamaker Trophy without a mighty battle. And he is excited by the belief that not alone has the “Eureka moment” in swing changes has occurred but that the Bridgestone is the ideal preparation for the PGA.

“There is no cut and the more rounds I have under my belt, the better”, he enthuses. “It’s perfect timing for the PGA. The good news is that I’ve got what I’ve been looking for and I am positive and optimistic, but then I always am. I have learned what’s important in my swing”.

We’ve heard a lot of this kind of stuff from Harrington over the past few months and it is easy to understand the people who claim it is now time for the clubs to do the talking.

The Bridgestone – previously the NEC Invitational – is played every year over the tree-lined Firestone course and Pádraig has yet to enjoy a top ten finish in ten starts.

His best was a share of 12th on his first appearance in 2000. Realistically, then, the best we may hope for this week is a decent performance that will restore some of the confidence and self belief that must have drained away over the last few months.

Darren Clarke has two world championships to his credit, the 2000 World Accenture Championship in which he defeated Tiger Woods in the final, and the Bridgestone (then the WGC NEC) in 2003.

ALL previous champions are invited back and that is why Darren – currently 109th in the world rankings – is in the field. There are those who believe Clarke, 42 next week, will never regain the form that made him one of the world’s finest in the mid to late 1990s through to last year when he was twice victorious on the European Tour.

However, his ball striking is almost as majestic as it was in his hey-days and if ever there was a course to inspire him to greater things, it has to be Firestone Country Club.

It was here that he captured the WGC title in 2003 and he was also third two years previously and 6th twelve months ago. Clarke needs a big performance this week – probably a top three finish – to creep into the top 100 who are exempted into the US PGA the following week.

The other Irish competitors at Firestone are Rory McIlroy, ranked 16th in the world, Graeme McDowell by virtue of his 48th place in the world rankings and Shane Lowry as one of the perks of his victory in the 3 Irish Open last May.

McDowell, who turned 30 on Sunday, has been showing ever improving form in the bigger events this year without ever really going close to sealing the deal. Nor has he done better than 52nd in his three appearances at Firestone.

Lowry, ranked 176th in the world, faces the most daunting of tasks. Not alone is this his first appearance as a professional in the States but he will be rubbing shoulders with all the greats on a long, tight course set up in the kind of difficult fashion that he will never have encountered before.

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