From Brian Keogh in Los Angeles
Padraig Harrington and Tiger Woods will keep us wondering about the state of their games right up until they strike their opening tee shots in the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship, high in the Sonoran Desert near Tucson on Wednesday.
But while the uncertainty surrounding Woods’ eagerly awaited return has everything to do with his recovery from knee surgery eight months ago. Harrington is simply searching for trust, and his psychologist, after successive missed cuts at Pebble Beach and Riviera Country Club,
As he took the final step that leads from the 18th green to Riviera’s clubhouse after third round 62 gave him a stranglehold on the Los Angeles Open, Phil Mickelson extended his hand to his coach Butch Harmon and said: “After every good shot I said to myself, ‘Thank you, Butch’.”
The left hander made an SOS call to Harmon from the scorer’s hut after following his opening 63 with a 72. And with Harmon by his side to iron out the wrinkles in his game, he carded a 62 on Saturday to take a four-stroke lead into last night’s final round.
Harrington post a pair of dog-eared, one-over par 72s that successively revealed weaknesses in almost every element of his game: driving, iron play, chipping and putting. Yet he was not lamenting the fact that his swing coach Bob Torrance was 5,000 miles away in Scotland but simply impatient that he would have to wait until today to sit down with his mental coach Dr Bob Rotella in the serenity of the Tortolita Mountains.
Before leaving Los Angeles for an earlier than expected trip to Tucson, Harrington assessed the state of his game after three frustrating weeks on the US west coast.
Already thinking ahead to the Masters in six weeks’ time, Harrington said: “I do talk to him (Bob Torrance) on the phone. But there ain’t anything wrong with the swing. It is the other Bob I need to talk to.”
Staring into space, he added: “It is lack of competition really. Lack of trust. I am seeing Northern Trust Open on the poster over there and it just jumped into my mind. It’s lack of focus. A good example: I worked hard on my putting yesterday for a couple of hours and I certainly feel like I did some good work. But it caused me to putt horribly today. That happens sometimes. As long as I am not missing those putts in five or six weeks’ time, that is the main thing.”
Tidying up the loose ends is Harrington's mission now and he points out that he is no longer confused about what has been going wrong with his game. It's rust, plain and simple.
“At the start of the year, essentially I hit a few bad shots and I wasn’t sure why it was happening," he said. "Now I am quite clear about the cause and effect. This normally how I feel the first week I am out and it has taken me two weeks to get to here.”
As for the return of Tiger Woods in Tucson, Harrington is more worriedd about his own game than the world No 1 and their possible clash at Augusta.
He said: "It is good for golf, no doubt about that, and it is better to have him in the event than not. It adds a bit of lustre to the tour alright and we all need that at the moment.
"As regards me, I am just minding my own business, doing my own thing, playing my own game. There are 156 guys in most fields and you can’t control them all.
"So I am not going to change my game or routine because of one extra guy. It is great to see him back but will keep doing my thing and see what happens."