By Brian Keogh
Padraig Harrington feels ready to win the Masters.
But the Dubliner knows that he will have to negotiate five holes from hell if he is to become the first Irishman to don the winner’s green jacket on Sunday evening.
Bathed in the soft southern sunshine, the 11th, 12th, 13th, 15th and 18th at Augusta National look like heaven on earth.
Yet with the experience of seven previous Masters appearances to draw on, Harrington has no doubt that this fearsome fivesome will make or break his 2007 Masters challenge.
With a scoring average of 72.46 from 24 rounds at Augusta, the European No 1 appears to be losing his battle with the most famous golf course in the world.
But he believes that he has learned valuable lessons since he first turned up at Augusta in 2000 and ran round "like a headless chicken" in a futile attempt to cover all the angles.
This year Harrington will be taking it all in his stride.
He knows what to expect at Amen Corner, the terrifying yet beautiful stretch of holes from the 11th to the 13th.
The par five 15th - with it’s car bonnet green protected front and back by water - is another hole that will get his attention and he knows that playing the 18th in over par figures for the fourth time in eight appearances won’t be enough.
He's certainly convinced that he has come all long way since he finished tied for 19th on his debut in 2000, just days after winning in Brazi.
He said: "You are coming in on a high and running around like a headless chicken, trying to cover all the angles.
"This time round I have the experience and I know the golf course better. With experience, I realise now that you can’t cover all options. If you try and cover all options there you are going to be a mess.
"You go in there and you want to be hitting your bunker shots perfect, you want to be chipping perfect, you want your pace putting perfect, you want your short putting perfect.
"You want to be hitting the ball well, you want to be hitting the ball high, you want to be hitting the ball long.
"But if you were to focus on any one of those, it would be to the detriment of something else, so you have just got to accept that you can’t do everything."
A Monday dental appointment to fix a chipped tooth prevented Harrington from overdoing things earlier this week.
Instead he will soak up the atmosphere, play his practice rounds and pay special attention to the five holes he believes will make or break his 2007 challenge.
He said: "You have to accept that you can’t practice for five hours and play the golf course. So you can’t cover all options.
"There is no point in trying to hit lots of shots into every green. You have just got to accept that you will have to deal with the different problems as they come up and not worry about being ready for every eventuality.¢
Here the Dubliner takes us through the five toughest shots on the course - all of them on the famed back nine, where the ghosts of past Masters heroes and villains still stalk the fairways.
No 11 White Dogwood
Par 4 505 yards
The beginning of Amen Corner, the wind if often a factor on this hole, which plays downhill and left to right. A pond guards the green to the left and a bunker has been strategically placed on the right. Famous for Larry Mize’s 140-foot chip in birdie to win the 1987 Masters.
Harrington explained: "You are playing to a small target with a swirling wind. There is water on the edge of the green, which is a no-no and you don’t want to miss it right either, for obvious reasons.
"It’s a four iron approach for me now, whereas it was a nine iron in 2000, so it has changed quite a bit. It’s also the start of Amen Corner and you are always happy to come away with a par."
Highest scores: 9, Dow Finsterwald, 1952; 9, Bo Wininger, 1958; 9, William G. Moody III, 1980; 9, Charles Howell III, 2006.
Lowest: 2, Jerry Barber, 1962; 2, Brad Faxon, 2002; 2, K.J. Choi, 2004; 2, Rory Sabbatini, 2006
2000 Bogey Bogey Par Bogey (+3)
2001 Par Par Birdie Bogey (E)
2002 Birdie Par Par Par (-1)
2003 Par Bogey (+1)
2004 Par Birdie Par Bogey (E)
2005 Par Double (+2)
2006 Par Par Par Bogey (+1)
Harrington’s average score: 4.25
No 12 Golden Bell
Par 3 155 yards
With Rae’s Creek in front and three bunkers to avoid, the shortest par three on the course is historically the second most difficult hole at Augusta National.
Harrington said: "You have a swirling wind with a small target and you don’t want to hit it long and you don’t want to be short either. The green is relatively flat although there is grain to take into account.
"With experience you know where it breaks but it is not a green where you want to be long or short of the hole. It can play anything between a six iron and a pitching wedge. Generally it is about an eight iron and it is one of the toughest shots you will face anywhere."
Highest score: 13, Tom Weiskopf, 1980
Lowest: 1, Claude Harmon, 1947; 1, William Hyndman, 1959; 1, Curtis Strange, 1988.
2000 Par Par Par Par (E)
2001 Par Bogey Par Birdie (E)
2002 Par Par Par Bogey (+1)
2003 Bogey Par (+1)
2004 Birdie Bogey Bogey Double (+3)
2005 Bogey Par (+1)
2006 Birdie Par Birdie Par (-2)
Harrington’s average: 3.16
No 13 Azalea
Par 5 510 yards
An accurate tee shot to the centre of the fairway allows you to go for the green in two. But beware. A tributary to Rae’s Creek winds in front of the green while four bunkers await anything going long.
While it played the second easiest hole last year with 14 eagles and 94 birdies, it also threw up 33 bogeys, nine doubles and two ‘others’.
For Harrington it is a classic risk-reward hole and he is contemplating cutting off as much of the dogleg as he dares to give himself the shortest possible approach to the green.
He said: "Even though they have pushed the tee back over the years, the drive hasn’t really changed because we all hit the ball further. But with the second shot you have a hanging lie and you are aiming right to draw the ball.
"The creek is right and you don’t want to smother it too much either because it is going to go through the green on the left and that is no fun either.
"It might give you a reason to be more aggressive off the tee and miss that slope to give yourself a six-iron to the green. Otherwise you are left with a three-iron to the green from that hanging lie, which ain’t easy.
"So I might be a bit more aggressive off the tee and cut across the trees
on the left a bit more to get down further.
"Yes, you are bringing more trouble into play with your tee shot. But you are working on the principal that if you miss it right you can still lay up and if you hit it down the fairway you have got a much easier shot."
Highest score: 13, Tsuneyuki 'Tommy' Nakajima, 1978;
Lowest: 2, Jeff Maggert, 1994
2000 Par Birdie Birdie Par (-2)
2001 Bogey Par Par Triple (+4)
2002 Bogey Bogey Birdie Birdie (E)
2003 Par Par (E)
2004 Par Par Birdie Par (-1)
2005 Birdie Par (-1)
2006 Par Birdie Double Bogey (+3)
Harrington’s average: 5.12
No 15 Firethorn
Par 5 530 yards
A reachable par five, despite the fact that the tee was moved back 30 yards and taken 20 yards left last year.
Only a perfect drive will give a player enough confidence to go for the green in two, but as Harrington explains, the third shot is no pushover either, if you decide to lay up.
He said: "The third shot from 85 yards is a tough shot but hitting in there from 220 yards is particular difficult. Landing it on the green and stopping it is the hard part.
"You can hit the green but if you get the wind slightly wrong you can end up in the water at the back and with the same shot, if the wind swirls back to you, you are in the front water. So it is one of the most intimidating shots in golf, in fact it is the hardest shot at Augusta.
"If you go up the right hand side you have 20 yards of green to work with though the first part of the that slopes back to the water.
"But I know that even if you are hitting a lob wedge in there you are worried about the water. If you hit a four-iron in there it is not the easiest shot."
Highest score: 11, Masahi 'Jumbo' Ozaki, 1987; 11, Ben Crenshaw, 1997; 11, Ignacio Garrido, 1998
Lowest score: 2, Gene Sarazen, 1935
2000 Par Par Par Birdie (-1)
2001 Bogey Birdie Bogey Par (+1)
2002 Par Birdie Birdie Birdie (-3)
2003 Par Par (E)
2004 Par Par Par Birdie (-1)
2005 Birdie Par (-1)
2006 Par Par Double Bogey (+3)
Harrington’s average: 4.91
No 18 Holly
Par 4 465 yards
Playing steeply uphill, the finishing hole is now a monster with the tee moved back an intimidating 60 yards in 2002.
The fairway bunker where Sandy Lyle got up and down to win in 1988 is now 300 yards from the tee and Harrington regards the tee shot here as the second most difficult shot you can face at Augusta.
He said: "It is one of those tee shots you have got to hit the fairway on - simple as that. The first time I was there I hit it round the corner and had a lob wedge in every day.
"Now you can’t get past the corner and if you go down the right you are going to have to cut your second shot. That is not the end of the world but it can play anything from a four-iron to a seven iron and if you miss the two-tiered green you have a very tricky chip."
Highest scores: 8, Denny Shute, 1959; 8, Homero Blancas, 1970; 8, Masahi 'Jumbo' Ozaki, 1994; 8, Ian Baker-Finch, 1995; 8, Arnold Palmer, 2000
Lowest: 2, Felice Torza, 1948; 2, Denis Hutchinson, 1962; 2, Jim Colbert, 1974; 2, John Huston, 1997; 2, Chris DiMarco, 2006
2000 Par Birdie Double Par (+1)
2001 Par Birdie Par Par (-1)
2002 Bogey Par Double Par (+3)
2003 Bogey Bogey (+2)
2004 Par Par Birdie Par (-1)
2005 Par Bogey (+1)
2006 Par Birdie Par Birdie (-2)
Harrington’s average: 4.12