Pressure mounting as Harrington eyes hard road ahead to Masters

Pádraig Harrington must beat seven of the world’s top 10 if he is to win the Honda Classic and make sure he doesn’t miss the Masters for the first time since his debut in 2000.

Pressure mounting as Harrington eyes hard road ahead to Masters

With the likes of Tiger Woods, Adam Scott and Henrik Stenson joined by Open winner Phil Mickelson, Zach Johnson, the re-born Rory McIlroy and a resurgent Sergio Garcia, it could not be a tougher ask for the three-time major winner.

The first of five events he hopes to play before the cut off for Augusta, Harrington knows it’s not going to be easy on the toughest course on the PGA Tour outside the majors.

“I am trying to get into the Masters every week,” admitted the Dubliner, who is now 139th in the world and bidding to end a four year winless streak on the world’s big tours. “I have five events between now and then — this week, Copperhead, hopefully Bay Hill, where I need an invite, San Antonio and Houston.

“I’m happy with how I am hitting the ball but this is one of the toughest courses of the year, by a long way. There are several shots you are waiting to hit all day and hoping to get through those such as the Bear Trap holes at the 15th, 16th and 17th.

“But there are also others like the sixth, there are a lot of tough holes. Thankfully, other people find it tough too so it would be a good week to have a bit of distance control and hit it straight.”

After finishing seventh in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and reaching the quarter-finals of last week’s WGC-Accenture Match Play in Tucson, Graeme McDowell arrives in Palm Beach Gardens bubbling with confidence having finished sixth, ninth and fifth in his last three starts at PGA National.

“Pebble and Tucson were great work outs for me to see where my game is at,” McDowell . I didn’t have a great week on the greens in the matchplay — I only holed when my back was against the wall — but everything else was pretty good and I drove the ball really well.”

Darren Clarke, who is playing the event for the first time since he missed the cut in 2012, is fully recovered from the chest muscle injury that forced him to pull out at the Qatar Masters and then withdraw after a first round 78 in the Northern Trust Open at Riviera.

Like Harrington, he has not qualified for next week’s WGC-Cadillac Championship and plans to take a break after spending the last three weeks at his US base in Florida.

“I hurt my chest on the range after the pro-am in Qatar,” Clarke said. “I’d hit it lovely in the pro-am and was hitting it well on the range and just started hitting it harder and harder and harder and pulled something. I couldn’t go on in LA but it’s fine now and my game is actually alright.”

Now ranked 290th in the world, Clarke cannot qualify for Doral even if he wins this week. But he’s still encouraged by his game despite modest results in the Volvo Golf Champions (24th) and the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship (52nd).

“I just need to put a few scores on the board,” Clarke said. “Of course, I want to play well and win but golf is not the be all and end all any more. In the past I’ve placed too much importance on golf so I’ve got to make sure Alison and the kids are alright.

“I’m working with James Sieckmann on my short game. I’ve got to hole a few more putts and try and put four rounds together.”

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