THE Standard St Jude Championship isn’t a tournament that would mean a whole lot to the majority of golf fans. But Pádraig Harrington is hopeful the US PGA Tour event, starting in Memphis, Tennessee on Thursday, will revive his flagging fortunes going into the following week’s US Open at Torrey Pines, San Diego.
After winning the Open Championship last July, Harrington came to the conclusion that the best way to prepare for a major was to play two tournaments immediately beforehand. That worked for him at Carnoustie, not quite so in the USPGA the following month when he could only manage a share of 42nd place, and there were positives again when he enjoyed a good final round in the Masters last April and tied for fifth.
However, the reality is that Harrington hasn’t won a tour event in the States or Europe since that memorable week in Scotland. He has played seven tournaments in America this year and started off really nicely with a third place finish in the Los Angeles Open at Riviera. He was subsequently fourth in New Orleans and, of course, fifth at the Masters before everything went belly-up in the Players Championship at Sawgrass.
Two under par through 25 holes, he collapsed in amazing fashion and dropped nine shots in the next 11 holes to miss the cut by a distance. At present, Harrington is 43rd in the US order of merit with $1.1m and 15th in the scoring averages.
Disappointingly, though, he hasn’t achieved a whole lot in Europe. He was fifth in the HSBC Champions tournament, although that was played last year, and11th in Abu Dhabi. He made a tame defence of his Irish Open at Adare Manor, finishing in a tie for 31st and, after skipping the PGA Championship at Wentworth, missed his first cut on the European Tour since October 2006 in the Wales Open at Celtic Manor, scene of the 2010 Ryder Cup.
Harrington’s recent indifferent performances have caused him to drop out of the automatic top 10 places in the European team for Valhalla in September. Worse again, having begun the year eighth in the world rankings, yesterday’s revelation that he has dropped back to 14th won’t do a whole lot for his morale.
There are times when even those closest to him don’t always understand where Harrington is coming from. For instance, after he missed the cut by two shots in Wales on Friday, finishing 15 strokes behind Scott Strange, he stated he still felt good about Torrey Pines and that “it’s actually been quite a positive week”.
He then admitted he had putted “abominably” during the two rounds at Celtic Manor, while claiming at the same time that he had “found something”. The failure, he added, “just convinces me to be more committed in my decision making”.
Harrington invariably spends a lot of time figuring out his schedule. That being the case, it might have been difficult to understand why he gave precedence to the Wales Open over the BMW PGA Championship on the previous week and the Memorial tournament at Muirfield Village which ran concurrently. However, a substantial six figure sum from the deep pockets of Celtic Manor owner Terry Matthews provided the explanation. To then miss the cut would have been a very sore thing.
Knowing his deep sense of pride, coupled with his innate professionalism, I am entirely satisfied Harrington gave Wales his very best shot and just in case anyone might have thought otherwise, he stressed that “it’s not like I wasn’t trying.”
Of course he was but that also has his supporters a little worried. He insists there is nothing wrong with his swing and that he is happy with his game. But his results don’t bear that out. Hopefully, he can turn all that around in Memphis this week for, by all accounts, Torrey Pines a week later, all 7,500 yards of it, is not the kind of place to prosper unless a player is right on top of his game.
Darren Clarke maintained his encouraging form of recent weeks when finishing 13 under par in Wales for a share of 4th place. He is now 103rd in the world rankings and edging ever closer to the top 100 which can open several doors that were closed to him in his recent spell in the doldrums. He is also 14th in the European Tour order of merit, although still well down the pecking order in the European Ryder Cup points list.
However, he is intent on putting that right as soon as possible and so plays in Austria this week (along with Graeme McDowell and Gary Murphy). He is also hopeful of further improving his chances of gaining an exemption into next month’s Open Championship at Royal Birkdale.
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