From Brian Keogh in Los Angeles
When Padraig Harrington won the US PGA Championship last August, he declared that the next step was to translate his inner belief in his ability into a kind of external braggadocio.
At normal tournaments, he said, he needed “that ability to walk onto the first tee, puff out my chest and say I'm here.”
Six months after he lifted his third major championship, Harrington is still Harrington. He still thrives on fear and with his long game only slowly turning around and his short game in some disarray, he admits that he could do with a decent performance in Los Angeles to prove that he is on the right track as he builds up to the Masters and his bid for the third leg of the so-called “Paddy Slam”.
So what happened to his plan to puff out his chest and strut his stuff at normal events?
“It is a lot of work,” he said with a grin as he took a break from some intensive work on his putting.
After surprising himself by shooting 17-under par to share fifth place on his 2009 debut in Abu Dhabi five weeks ago, Harrington has played poorly for the past fortnight. In the Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines he papered over the cracks with a closing 68 that gave him a share of 28th place.
His long game was ragged and he spent so much time trying to correct a hook that his short game, especially his putting, let him down in the AT&T National Pro-Am at Pebble Beach last week and he missed the 54-hole cut by four shots.
When he packs his bags in Tinseltown this week, Harrington will head straight to Tucson for the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship with knowledge that he has just four more events to find some form before the Masters.
“As always you want to see some form before you get to Augusta. I have got four more tournaments so I want to put the form in so I know I am on the right track,” he said at Rivera, where he was seventh in 2007 and tied third last year. “I putted well in Abu Dhabi and that helped a lot. I started out last week and hit all the greens on the front nine and had eight two putts and a three putt and just got frustrated after that.
“I then followed it on for the week and didn’t putt well afterwards because of it. The fact that I am standing here on the putting green and not on the practice ground shows you that I feel like the weakness is on the putting green at this stage, not on the longer game.
“I didn’t putt great and then let it get away from me. You have got to keep on top of these things and the goal now is to be comfortable with my putting going into this week.”
Harrington discovered a fault with his ball position was causing him to hook the ball at Torrey Pines. He moved the ball up in his stance to correct that but he has now decided to make a fundamental change in his set up that has forced him to change the lies of all his clubs.
“I try to not flex my knees as much. It keeps my hips turning better,” he explained. “This isn’t a correction, it’s a change. I have always had a lot of knee flex so I am taking a little bit out. My irons were knocked two degrees flat and I need to bump them up again because of that.”
Harrington is not altogether surprised that things haven’t gone to plan over the past fortnight and consoles himself with the thought that this is the time to knock the rust of his game, rather than the week before the Masters.
“Things like the ball position go out but that’s what you get when you practice in the windy weather at home,” he explained. “That can happen. Things like that have to be put back into position so you are not thinking about them and it is all working.
“As I said, I am more focussed on my short game at the moment and hopefully I will get comfortable after a poor two weeks. We want to be stronger and if we are, I am sure that will lead into my longer game.”
The fact the he has performed so well at Riviera in recent years is no guarantee that things will go well this week.
“Yes, it suits me,” he said. “But I would have thought Pebble Beach suited me too. If I am ready to go on Thursday morning, that is what I am looking forward to. There are just a few things that need to be tidied up rather than anything else.”
Graeme McDowell will be teeing it up at Riviera hoping to make the cut for the first time after missing out on his previous appearance here in 2005 and 2006.
“It’s a narrow course, a shot-shapers course,” McDowell said. “It is a great old track. It is a major track and I just want to compete and give myself a chance on the weekend and I think I am playing well enough to do that."
From Brian Keogh in Los Angeles