Harrington on Masters mission

By Brian Keogh

Padraig Harrington looks like a man on a mission as he begins the countdown to next week's Masters.

The Dubliner tied for fourth in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans after a sensational back nine charge that bodes well for Augusta.

And while his bid for the title ended in a watery grave after a suicidal bid to eagle the 18th, Harrington is right on track with his preparations.

Set to finish his Masters build up in this week's Shell Houston Open, the Open champion said: "I was quite happy that I seemed to get into the zone there at the last nine holes.

"I was three-over par after three holes at the start of the week and if I am going to wonder why I didn't win this tournament, I have to go back to that.

"I made a lot of errors early on in the week but certainly I was pleased. As I got more into contention my focus got sharper and that's pleasing.

"I've only another four rounds of golf to make sure it's sharp the first day in Augusta."

After a weather delay on Saturday, Harrington completed a third round 68 on Sunday to move up to tied eighth with a round to play.

And while he looked out for the count after a bogey at the fourth, he caught fire on the way home when he reeled off five birdies in eight holes - holing twice from off the green with the putter

The world No 12 needed an eagle at the 589-yard, par-five 18th to tie with clubhouse leader and eventually winner Andres Romero on 13-under par.

But he drove into a bunker and looked on in agony as his daring, 232-yard five-wood splashed down in a lake.

After missing the green with his fourth, he eventually holed a 30 footer for a brave bogey six.

But he had no regrets about going for the eagle and a possible play-off with Romero, who lifted his maiden PGA Tour win.

He said: "I had to make eagle and I was pushing it a little bit. I just got a bit distracted during my routine and I should have stood off it.

"But these are the things you fail to do when you're not quite sharp. I didn't hit a good shot.

"But I had to take it on - there is a world of difference between first and second."

Harrington heads to Augusta next week as Ireland's first major champion for 60 years and the first European major winner since 1999.

And after topping the putting statistics in the Masters last year, he knows he is more than capable of adding a green jacket to his wardrobe on Sunday week.

All the stopped him last term was a disastrous run on the par-five 15th.

He had a triple bogey eight on day one, a double on day three and a closing bogey when he was just three shots behind winner Zach Johnson.

He went on to finish four shots behind in a tie for seventh but left Augusta feeling better than ever about his Masters chances.

At the time, he said: "I walk away from this tournament knowing that I'm capable of winning the Masters. I felt great all day.

"I hit my best shot at number 15. I hit a good drive and a great second shot, but it ended up in the water. Often that goes your way. I never contemplated it would be in the water - in fact, I was telling it to get down. I thought it might be long.

"Only when I heard the 'oohs' and 'aahs' did I know it was in the water. But I was really happy with how I played - even when things went against me.

"I'm comfortable in this position. This is just fantastic. You can't beat playing in these tournaments."

Harrington rates the Masters as the toughest of all the majors to win and reckons that you have to lose a few before you eventually win.

In 2002 he led by three shots after 11 holes on the first day only to slide back to fifth spot by the end of the week.

But he explained: "Because of the history at Augusta I think it's the hardest to win without being in contention in it before.

"It seems to be a major that takes a bit of earning - there's a lot going on that you've seen happen in the past."

Winning multiple majors has always been Harrington's goal and he has taken a single-minded approach this year - skipping the CA-Championship two weeks ago to play the two events running up to Augusta.

At Carnoustie last year, he said: "My goal was always to win more than one major.

"If I ever crossed the threshold to win one, I wouldn't feel like that was the end of my road.

"I'll try to win another, rather than feeling that this was the pinnacle. I'm going to celebrate like it's the pinnacle, but I've got other goals now to move on with."