Harrington looks to put mind over matter at Pebble Beach

The first appearance by Tiger Woods in America this year has inevitably dominated the build-up to the AT&T National pro-am at Pebble Beach this week.

But the importance of Pádraig Harrington’s first appearance there since last September should not be overlooked.

Ireland’s three-time Major winner almost certainly has to win on Sunday to book himself a place in the first world championship of the season.

And failing to do that will be a big blow to his hopes of retaining his Ryder Cup spot later this year.

Harrington has played every Accenture Match Play apart from the inaugural one in 1999, but he now stands 93rd in the world and has to climb back into the top 65 to make the trip to Tucson later this month.

The 40-year-old Dubliner has turned to mental coach Dave Alred — the man who has linked up with world number one Luke Donald and rugby star Jonny Wilkinson — to help him.

They worked together for the first time in Abu Dhabi a fortnight ago. Harrington only came 35th, but described the benefits as “fantastic”.

He said: “Prior to the week I was excited at the prospect of what he would bring but a little apprehensive.

“Now that week one is over, I am very excited about working with him and can’t wait to get to see him again.

“I was asked about what he does. The best way I could explain it was that he doesn’t have new answers or questions, he merely asks the same questions but in a different way. He observed what I do and then gave his thoughts on how I could do it better.

“He has totally changed the way I will practice by giving it more meaning. The changes will have a huge effect for the rest of the year.”

Harrington plays the event once again in the company of racehorse owner JP McManus. They start on the Monterey Peninsular course tomorrow, while Woods is at Spyglass Hill along with partner Tony Romo.

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Romo is no amateur, having tried to qualify for the 2005 US Open.

“He’s one of those gifted athletes that whatever he picks up, he can do,” said Woods, who last played in the tournament 10 years ago.

“Post-football he wants to maybe give it a run on the mini tours or the Senior Tour eventually.”

Woods has finished third, first and third on his last three starts, but at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship two weeks ago was tied for the lead with Robert Rock with a round to go and fell back with a closing 72.

“Even though I lost, I was very pleased,” he said. “That was my bad day of ball-striking and it wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t that big a deal. If I can have that as my bad ball-striking day, then we’re looking pretty good.”

Pebble Beach, of course, is where he won the 2000 US Open by a Major record 15 shots. It is also where Swede Daniel Chopra made not one, but two holes-in-one in practice on Monday.

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