As far as a watching Pádraig Harrington will be concerned, this week’s realistic contenders can be narrowed down to a mere handful.
Reduced to an observer like the rest of us, although a considerably more frustrated one, Harrington is sitting out this year’s visit to Augusta National having run out of opportunities to claim an invitation to the first major of the season when he failed to make the cut at last week’s Shell Houston Open in Texas.
Like many, the three-time major champion ranks world number one Jason Day, defending Masters champion Jordan Spieth and career Grand Slam-chasing Rory McIlroy as the men to beat this week.
Choosing suitable rivals to challenge the game’s current big three, though, is another matter and the only name the Irishman could serious consider was two-time champion Bubba Watson with 2013 Masters winner Adam Scott and Dustin Johnson the outsiders on his list.
“The problem you have, if it’s a problem with golf now, is you might have five guys whose A games are incredible and comparable to Tiger’s A game. I think Jordan’s the only one who has an ‘A’ and a ‘B’ game, he’s pretty special all the time,” Harrington said.
But if the big three don’t win, how can you discount Bubba? How can you discount Adam Scott now?
“I’d go with Bubba definitely. When it goes to the Masters, Bubba has to be well within those first three guys, I don’t think you separate from those four guys.
“Adam is playing physically great, obviously putting well but I’d put him on the outside because of the greens. It’s not a natural thing for him and Augusta requires a great week on the greens.
“Phil Mickelson (a three-time champion) is putting better and they’re talking about his swing but his putting stats is better, and that breeds a lot of confidence. Again he can be there or thereabouts.
“I think the more interesting ones are the likes of DJ (Johnson). He’s got himself there.
“The joke on Tour...it’s funny, there’s so many players, the likes of (Brandt) Snedeker has gone up to DJ and we’ve all said, ‘If we’re playing golf the way you’re playing golf, DJ, how could we not win?’.
“He drives the ball better than everybody in terms of there are other guys who are equally as long but nobody is as comfortable as he is with that driver, it’s just phenomenal. If we were all playing from there you’d wonder what golf would be like.
“But therein lies the problem. He’s not winning and dominating from where he’s hitting his tee shots. So that’s a glaring issue.
“Where he’s playing golf from, he should be winning one out of every three events sort of thing, and he’s not winning enough. So that is an issue.
“I definitely put those first four guys there, Adam Scott’s playing great but again it mightn’t be the one that suits him, and outside of that...”
As for McIlroy, currently world No. 3 but seeking the Masters victory that would complete the set of major victories just four years after his first at the 2011 US Open, Harrington believes patience is the key for his compatriot to start winning again.
There have been patches of brilliance this season without a tournament victory for McIlroy, whose title bids in the Northern Trust Open at Riviera and the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral were undone by final rounds of 75 and 74 respectively.
Since Harrington spoke, the Holywood golfer has also enjoyed a spirited defence of his WGC-Dell Match Play title, which ended with a semi-final defeat to eventual champion Day. Yet that loss highlighted McIlroy’s issues, great ball-striking but something missing from his short game.
“The players look at Rory as he’s the guy if he’s on form, he’s winning,” Harrington said.
“It’s just a question of him being patient. He’s the guy we all recognise as having the most firepower. He hits the most spectacular shots, the best shots.
“There’s a few that get up there, such as Jason Day and Bubba. Jordan has a different way of doing it. He’s pretty special in that sense but most people would like to have Rory’s ability. We all believe that if we had it, we’d stay patient but I’m sure if we had it, we’d want it (to work) all the time.
“I think if you turned around and gave everyone Rory’s ability to hit a golf ball every week, they’d be so jacked up they’d win, but Rory’s used to it so he’s waiting to hole putts as well.”