Padraig Harrington today returned from a trip to the dentist to talk about the one great thing in his favour if he finds himself battling Tiger Woods for the Masters at Augusta on Sunday.
Harrington has twice beaten the world number one going head-to-head in the final round of a tournament – and how every other leading player in the game would love to be able to say the same.
The 35-year-old has, of course, yet to do it in a major, with Woods an amazing 12 out of 12 when leading going into the last day of golf’s four biggest events.
But Harrington, who chipped a tooth and spent 90 minutes having it sorted out, said: “It’s got to be comforting, no question about it.
“The fact that I have successfully done it in the past, it’s got to be positive. But I don’t think there’s a single player in this field that wouldn’t want to be playing with Tiger on Sunday because that usually says you’re doing quite well.”
The first of the victories he has had over Woods came in the 2002 Target World Challenge in California. A third-round 63 was the key, taking him from one behind to six in front, and although Woods then outscored him by four, the title went to the Dubliner.
Last November they were locked together on the last day of the Dunlop Phoenix tournament in Japan.
Woods then led by three with six to play, but Harrington caught him and won in a play-off.
“It’s got to be a help to Padraig if he goes head to head again – it’s just got to,” commented Colin Montgomerie, who has never won a tournament with Woods in the field, let alone faced him and got the better of him.
American magazine “Golf Digest” also came up with the statistic entering this year that Harrington is the only player to have been in the same group as Woods at least five times and outscored him.
Harrington has a 68.83 average in six rounds, compared with Woods’ 69.5.
The closest anyone else came was Vijay Singh. The Fijian’s average score playing with Woods was 70.14, compared with 69.48 for Woods. Against everyone else Woods has a scoring advantage of at least one stroke.
Harrington and Woods have played together on the last day of a major once. It was the 2002 US Open at Bethpage and Woods “winning” by 70-73 meant nothing to him because he was not in contention.
As the second highest-ranked European in the world – he is 10th, Swede Henrik Stenson sixth – Harrington accepts he is one of the leading hopes to end a barren spell in the majors stretching back to Paul Lawrie’s 1999 Open victory.
“We have a strong, young Ryder Cup team and there will be some Masters winners coming out of the team, no doubt about it,” he stated.
“But I think it does take a lot of experience to win at Augusta. It really is not a tournament that throws up surprises.
“I think you really need to have come close before you win here. I definitely think it’s the toughest major to win – it asks the ultimate questions coming down the stretch.
“There are a lot of shots that have to be absolutely perfect. The margin for error on the likes of 11, 12, 13, 15 is very slim.
“I think Lee Westwood described it best when he was leading going into the back nine (in 1999). Just everything changed.”
Westwood said he felt physically sick entering Amen Corner and he ended up only joint sixth.
Asked whether he thought the next European major winner was more likely to be one of the younger guys like Stenson, Luke Donald or Paul Casey, Harrington replied: “I would see more the guy who has had the disappointments.
“I think very few guys win a major, especially a major like this, that have not had it and let it go.”
He and Montgomerie lead in that category and only last June both suffered at the US open, Montgomerie with his closing double bogey to lose by one and Harrington with three closing bogeys to lose by two.
“It’s like breaking the four-minute mile. Once one person does it, everybody will be able to do it. When it was first done the following year I think 55, 57 guys ran a four-minute mile.
“If I’m not going to win I’m certainly rooting for one of my fellow Europeans. The quicker somebody wins one maybe that will open the floodgates for a few more Europeans to follow on.
“Somebody was talking about their aspirations and said, ’I want to be the first European to win a major in 2007’. I’ll be quite happy if I’m the fourth European to win a major in 2007!”
Meanwhile, as practice rounds took most of the attention at Augusta today, behind the scenes there were talks between club officials and BBC executives that the television company hope will see a new contract being signed.
This comes, of course, only a few days after the BBC lost the rights to live FA Cup matches and England internationals to ITV and Setanta. Gary Lineker also fronts the golf coverage this week.