Padraig Harrington didn’t get to shake hands with Barack Obama on Wednesday night but the US President indirectly helped the Dubliner grab the halfway lead in the Transitions Championship in Tampa.
Ireland’s three time major winner got in just 27 holes practice at Copperhead because he travelled to Washington on Wednesday for a St Patrick’s Day celebration at the White House.
But his lack of knowledge of the tough par 71 track didn’t seem to bother him on Friday as he fired at pins and added a six under 65 to his opening 68 to lead on eight under par.
Harrington said: “I’m definitely getting more comfortable with the golf course. But I also realize that, you know, obviously there will be two new pin positions Saturday and Sunday, and probably tougher pins on Sunday, in particular, and I won’t be that familiar with it.
“So I will to take kind of the attitude I’ve been taking for the first to days, which is fire away at them and not worry about it until I get up there. It has not cost me too badly so far. So I’ll kind of stick with that for two more days.
“You know, if I thought going to the White House was going to detrimentally affect my performance, one or the other would have to be given up, either the tournament or the White House. (Laughter).
“You know, I felt that it certainly may put a little bit more risk into the performance, but I didn’t think it would detrimentally affect it, and it hasn’t, obviously. I would like to have known the golf course more.
“I think if I had played this course a few times, you know, played the tournament last year or the year before, obviously I think it would be reasonable to take a day off on Wednesday and still compete in the tournament without any adverse affects.
“I don’t think there was a physical adverse affect, but I still didn’t know the golf course as well as I would have liked to. Still getting to know it.”
Having taken a gift of a set of left-handed Wilson clubs to the White House, complete with a golf bag monogrammed with the seal of the President of the United States, Harrington’s presence was acknowledged by the US leader during the speech making.
Addressing around 150 guests, Taoiseach Brian Cowen said: And of course, Mr. President, when the Irish are finished looking after your entertainment needs — (laughter) — Pádraig Harrington, who also joins us tonight can help you with your golf game.”
Obama smiled and spotted Harrington in the crowd of guests. Looking around the room for the Dubliner, Obama said: “I need help. There he is. I need some tips.”
Here’s a tip. If you are going to go to Augusta National feeling confident about your chances, start holing putts.
Harrington did that brilliantly on Friday, though the longest putt he had to hole was a 12 footer as he picked up seven birdies and dropped just one stroke.
Starting on the back nine, he hit a 130 yard nine iron to a foot at the par five 11th to get the ball rolling and then hit a six iron to three feet at the 16th to pick up another stroke.
He birdied the par five first from a foot, the third from six feet and fifth from 10 feet before dropping his only shot of the day at the sixth, where he drove into trouble on the right and got caught in the trees.
It was only a temporary glitch as he birdied the seventh and ninth to post his lowest score of the year so far.
As for the Masters, Harrington says he’s simply focussed on picking up his first tour win since the 2008 US PGA.
“I’m capable of winning in the form I’m in. Am I in my best form? No. Am I getting there? Yes. I’m kind of in the form that I was in at the end of last year. I’m out there — I’m right in the midst of it. I’m not far away from — I’m happy that I’ve got another weekend of golf here and another tournament before Augusta, let’s say.
“I do feel like I could go with more golf. I’m pretty much in the midst of playing golf at the moment and not too worried about my technique.
“….Winning and competing are pretty much the same thing.
You know, you put yourself out there and you put yourself at the line; that tests where your game is at. You know, some weeks, the results happen and you get a win, and some weeks they won’t. I’ve played tournaments where I’ve played great coming down the stretch and not won and I’ve played tournaments where I’ve played average and won. So it’s not always the result.
“Mind you, I haven’t won in a while, so a result would be nice, but it’s more about putting yourself in competition right up there and testing yourself. You learn a lot more when you’re in that sort of position. I had a good week last week where, you know, I tested my game and I’ll go and have another day tomorrow where I’ll be thinking about it a little bit more than maybe I should, and worried a little bit more, and that’s the sort of pressure you want in a buildup for a major tournament, yeah.
“But I’ve got to say, guys, I won’t be thinking about the Masters tomorrow. I’ll be thinking about Transitions. That’s my focus for the next two days.”