Padraig Harrington is accustomed to firsts. In 2007 he became the first player from the Republic of Ireland to win the Open, then the following year at Royal Birkdale he became the first European since James Braid in 1906 to retain the Claret Jug.
When he won the US PGA, he was the first golfer to win two majors in a season since Mark O’Meara in 1998 and the first to win consecutive majors in the same year since Nick Price in 1994. Needless to say, he was first in the qualifying race for Nick Faldo’s ill-fated Ryder Cup team that year.
Since then, however, Harrington’s first have been of a different variety. The 2009 season, for example, was his first winless year on the European or PGA Tour since 1999. Last year saw him require a Ryder Cup wildcard for the first time.
Over the next three weeks he will attempt to avoid another unwanted record by bridging the nearly €64,000 gap that separates him from the top 60 in the money list who qualify for the Dubai World Championship.
The 40-year old Dubliner has qualified for the European Tour’s season-ending event every year since he turned professional in 1996 - 13 Volvo Masters and two Dubai World Championship appearances - but he’s in serious trouble at 74th in the rankings with events running out.
Following his absence from last week’s WGC-HSBC Championship in Shanghai - his first failure to qualify for a World Golf Championship event - he is desperate to avoid another first. Whatever about the bonuses that are built into his contracts, Harrington needs to make Dubai for his own self-esteem.
He said as much by committing to playing the final counting event in Hong Kong in three weeks’ time. Before heading to Shanghai two weeks ago for the glorified exhibition that was the Lake Malaren Masters, the three-time major champion said he would only add Hong Kong if he didn’t earn enough in this week’s Barclays Singapore Open or next week’s Iskandar Johor Open (where he defends the title) to guarantee his place in Dubai.
Having recently resigned with Wilson Golf and with his three-year deal with FTI Consulting about to expire, he needs to win again soon to justify his lucrative contracts. But as he pointed out on Tuesday at the $6m Barclays Singapore Open, his patience is being tested, especially on the greens.
“I feel good about the game. (But) I want to get more out of my scores. I’ve been playing a bit better than my score. Just maybe hole one or two more putts. I walk out from a lot of rounds thinking I could have been two shots better,” he said.
His last victory was achieved at the Iskandar Johor Open in Malaysia, which he will defend next week, but since then, he has registered only four top-10s around the world with an eighth place at last month’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship equalling his best of the year.
“I played well in practice for a good 18 months but not performed on the golf course,” said Harrington. “Last tournament I played, I finished eighth and I missed 21 putts from about 12 to 15 feet and that’s a lot of putts. You need a few putts to drop. It’s the difference between winning and doing okay in an event.”
He knows the he must stay patient to get back onto the winner’s trail at the Barclays Singapore Open, which is sanctioned by the Asian Tour and European Tour. He recalled the 2008 edition where he three putted the final green to lose by one shot to India’s Jeev Milkha Singh.
“I would say it was one of the worst mental errors in my career that I’ve ever made. Hit a beautiful second shot and got stuck on the bank. On another day, it would have come back to three feet and I would have had a putt for the outright win. I’m so frustrated and I three putted the hole.
“Ninety times in a hundred, I would get down in two and get into a play-off. When you do that to yourself, you make bad things happen to yourself. You have to be patient and wait for it to happen. I’m trying to be patient. I know there are good times ahead,” said Harrington.
After so many impressive firsts over the past 15 years, Harrington is determined that Hong Kong won’t be his last outing this year.