Harrington looking to green pastures

Padraig Harrington hasn't been sprinkled with any Hollywood glitz since he turned up in Tinseltown with a streaming head cold on Tuesday afternoon.

But the Dubliner is hoping that the flashes of brilliance he showed at Pebble Beach last week will shine through at the Riviera Club where 17 of the world's top 20 will bid for a top prize of US$1.11 million in the Northern Trust Open on the outskirts of Hollywood.

Ted for 14th after an exceedingly average performance on the par-fives on the Monterey Penninsula, Harrington will be hoping to take advantage of the absence of Tiger Woods on a track he fell in love with last year.

Early season results are welcomed by the Open champion, but he confessed that his preparations are tailored towards peaking for the Masters at Augusta in nine weeks' time.

"This is a two-month programme to get myself ready for the Masters and last week at Pebble Beach was reminder of all the stuff I have done over the winter and where it has got me," Harrington said as early fog reduced visibility to less than 100 yards in the pre-tournament pro-am.

"There is a distinct difference between technical practice and tournament play and it showed up last week. I wasn't tournament sharp. But I like it here. It's just the fact it's old and mature and it fits nicely in your mind's eye."

Suffering from a cold, Harrington spent his first practice day at Riviera tweaking his clubs on the range in an attempt to find the ideal set-up to suit a swing change he hopes will make him a far more accurate player.

But as the Pacific Palisades course emerged from the fog to reveal itself in all its glory during his first practice round yesterday, he took time out to reflect on the FAI's decision to hand Giovanni Trapattoni the reins of the Irish soccer squad some 5,000 miles away.

"The FAI would have been worse off if they had rushed things," Harrington said of the protracted search for Ireland's new coach. "Taking a long time to get the right person is better than rushing it and getting the wrong man.

"I'm a bit more optimistic about Ireland's chances in the near future. I think there has been a changing of the guard and that Brian Kerr and Steve Staunton were victims of change.

"There are enough good Irish players out there now and they can move forward even though they have ground to make up in terms of seedings."

Soccer has been in the news in LA this week with popular Los Angeles Times columnist TJ Simers launching a scathing attack on David Beckham's so far failed attempt to boost the profile of Major League Soccer here.

"The only thing going on with Beckham these days appears to be his underwear ad," ran the piece, "which is just perfect for him because all he has to do is lie there and say nothing."

Beckham still managed to get a mention at Riviera, however, with defending champion Charles Howell staying with relatives on the same Beverly Hills street where the England star has set up home with Posh Spice.

"I didn't know it was his home until I saw the line of paparazzi," Howell said. "But there's cars lined up everywhere outside this house, all of these guys with cameras, I figured Tiger Woods lost his ball over there or somebody lived there, and come to find out it was David Beckham."

Woods, Ernie Els and Henrik Stenson are the only members of the world's top 20 not taking part this week. Yet it is Woods' absence that has been felt more keenly.

"Like it or not, he is the guy that moves the needle the most," Howell said. "He is our biggest star. On the flipside, when he doesn't play you know, his winning percentage is pretty high these days, so it does free that up a little bit."