By Brian Keogh
The F-word will be at the forefront of Padraig Harrington's mind this week. F for focus, that is.
With just two tournament appearances under his belt over the past 10 weeks, the 36-year old Dubliner will make his second appearance in the Northern Trust Open at the fabled Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles hoping that his mental game is sharper than it was on his US debut at Pebble Beach last week.
Tied for 14th in the AT&T Pro-Am, Harrington confessed afterwards that he will have to cut out the errors that cost him on the Monterey Peninsula if he is to contend on the Pacific Palisades track where his hero Ben Hogan won two of his three Los Angeles Open titles.
"I like Riviera but I've got to be better than I was this week," Harrington said at Pebble Beach. "This week at Pebble is always a very generous week and it's why I come here as an opening event. Riviera will not be as generous."
If history is anything to go by, Harrington's preparation are remarkably similar to last year's, when he came into the event after a week of ‘flu, scorched out of the blocks with an eight-under par 63 and eventually finished seventh behind winner Charles Howell III.
This year he's suffered a back injury (Abu Dhabi) and is only just recovering from the effects of a bout of shingles. And his objectives are remarkably similar too: cut out the mental mistakes and get the game in shape for bigger goals ahead, such as the Masters or next week's WGC-Accenture Match Play championship in Arizona.
"I am feeling my way back. It was an okay week but I made lots of mental errors," said Harrington, who will face Colombia's Camilo Villegas in the first round in Tucson next week providing there are no withdrawals.
"It just brings it home when you come back to the Tour, just what you've got to do. You come back in and you do slip up a little bit. The mental aspect is a part of my game that I would normally consider very strong.
"It generally shows up a little bit when I start up again. I am a bit uncompetitive."
Harrington got to within a stroke of the lead during the final round at Pebble Beach, but eventually finished six shots outside a play-off for the title between winner Steve Lowery and Vijay Singh.
"I got caught out a few times not deciding on shots but that's what you expect the first week out," he said. "I do need a couple of weeks to get back into things."
Almost fully recovered from shingles, Harrington says he's "feeling good" physically, adding: "I caught it in time. I just can't overdo things for the moment because it would still be there in my nervous system."
While Tiger Woods has decided to skip Riviera again this year, 17 of the world's top 20 are in action including Phil Mickelson and Europeans Sergio Garcia, Luke Donald and Justin Rose
Next week's WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona is at the back of player's minds and while Jerry Kelly preferred to wait until the release of the official draw on Monday before commenting on his probable clash with defending champion Henrik Stenson, South African Rory Sabbatini had no problem talking about his encounter with world number 60 Colin Montgomerie.
"Monty's record in matchplay speaks for itself, so I would expect it to be a very tough match," said the world number eight on a scorching morning at Riviera.
"Matchplay is an interesting game. It's hole by hole and you can't make any clearcut predictions."
Sabbatini did predict a ninth Ryder Cup appearance for Montgomerie at Valhalla in September, despite the Scot's public falling out with skipper Nick Faldo.
"Well, I wouldn't be surprised to see him in there as a captain's pick," Sabbatini said, neatly avoiding the possibility of Montgomerie clinching his place automatically. "He has the most incredible record in individual and team play."