Harrington heading into unknown

By Brian Keogh

Open champion Padraig Harrington will be heading into the unknown when he tees it up in the $7 million Barclays Classic in New York.

On the plus side, he knows the course like the back of his hand after finishing first and second in 2005 and 2004 when the event was played on its traditional June date.

But he's never played it in August and after going eight days without swinging a club, he has no idea what to expect in the first of four FedEx Cup play-off events.

After sweating in 40 degrees plus temperatures at the US PGA in Oklahoma just two weeks ago, Harrington turned up at a rainy Westchester Country Club in a very Irish 14F.

And that means he has no idea how far the ball will fly as 140 of the top 144 players on the PGA Tour bid to get off to a FedEx Cup flier.

Harrington said: "It will be quite different this week, it seems. than when we play in June. In June it's very hard and fast, it's very warm and the ball is going a long way.

"Certainly if it the temperature stays the same, that will be curtailed quite a bit.

"The golf course will play substantially different and there will be a lot more drivers off the tee and longer second shots to softer greens. I can't quite tell whether it's easier or harder or just different."

Putting will be key on Westchester's sloping greens but what concerns Harrington more is the state of his swing after spending eight days on a family holiday at Disney World in Florida.

He said: "I've probably taken the longest break I've ever taken without hitting a golf ball - eight days since the PGA. And I haven't swung at a golf ball yet in that time.

"It was fine in Oklahoma. But I definitely needed a rest after the PGA, and I'm hoping that the swing is the same and I can just stay sharper mentally."

As for the new-fangled FedEx Cup system, qualified accountant Harrington has had no problem understanding how it works.

Under the old system, he would be more than $5 million behind Tiger Woods in the race for the money title.

But this year he is just 5,400 points adrift of the world No 1 with 50,000 points on offer for the winner this week.

With Woods skipping the Barclays to recharge his batteries, 21st ranked Harrington has a golden opportunity to grab an early FedEx Cup advantage.

Assessing the new system, Harrington said: "It's quite clear-cut. It gives somebody like me a great chance of winning the Playoff.

"Compared to the old system of winning the Player of the Year, I would have needed to win nine times or something like that.

"Now I probably need to win twice. So I need to get hot for four weeks; win twice and have another good week probably on top of that.

"Two wins are what's needed. Somebody at the very top might get away with one win and a couple other good performances. But for me, I have to get out there and win twice.

"I've had a good week off and I'm hoping to be strong these four weeks. Like a lot of players, we are all looking for a quick start in this tournament to sort of carry us through the next three weeks.

"Somebody in my position, somebody down there, say 21st or so, I want a good start to get me right up in position and keep me thinking about it."

After winning the Open, Harrington admits that he has to guard against losing his focus in the lesser events.

He said: "It's very important to win majors, but there's a lot more out there, as well. So having won one, it could be very easy to sort of say, well, there's only major golf.

"I have to be careful to remain focused on my other goals and not just wait around, as I say, seven months for the Masters."