Padraig Harrington might only be one place ahead of Rory McIlroy in the world rankings but the gulf in experience that separates the three time major winner and the young Ulsterman was evident as they prepared for next week’s Masters Tournament at the Shell Houston Open.
World No 10 Harrington spent last week working quietly on his game at home and despite a disappointing weekend in the Transitions Championship in Tampa in his last US starts, he did not feel the need to call in his coach Bob Torrance.
In contrast to McIlroy, who played four practice rounds in three days at Augusta recently, Harrington has never made a pre-tournament trip down Magnolia Lane.
“I will tell myself a hundred times next week that I know the golf course, that I know the greens and the different intricacies,” Harringtons said in Texas. “The last thing I want to do is go out there and try and a hit a putt on the first green from every conceivable position to pin position to every conceivable pin position. The fact of the matter is I know it.”
At the age of 38 and with 10 Masters appearances behind him, Harrington is more concerned about his mental game than the physical tests that lie in store next week and to that end, his goal this week is to avoid a repeat of the “Houston, we have a problem” headlines that have accompanied his three previous warm-up appearances at Redstone Golf Club.
“There is not much work to do but I do have to get it right this week,” said Harrington, who tied for 26th after visiting no fewer than nine water hazards here last season. “So I want to be disciplined this week to get ready for next week. There mightn’t be much work to be done but there could be a lot of damage done between now and next week so I have to be very mindful of that.
“It has nothing to do with the scoring but just the way I approach things. If the mental side of my game and my routines are good. then I would be very happy going into next week.
“Also I would want my swing to be in reasonable shape. The last thing is that you don’t want to be going to Augusta trying to find something or work on something. In that sense, it was good last week also that I did not have to see Bob (Torrance) to work on my swing.”
Harrington’s early season form has been promising with top 10 finishes in Doral and Tampa in his last two starts an indication that he is close to peaking at the Masters.
McIlroy, on the other hand, has spent the past two weeks working hard with his coach Michael Bannon to knock his swing back into shape after finishing tied for 40th in the Honda Classic and a disappointing tied 65th in the WGC - CA Championship at Doral.
“I was struggling with my back and I wasn’t really happy with the way my game was going”, said McIlroy who has 124th in the US money list and 143rd in the FedEx Cup table after three events. “The back niggle was still lingering in the last few events I played at Honda and Doral. But I have had two weeks off and a nice rest and it feels as if we are getting somewhere working hard with Michael, which is why I have him over for the next couple of weeks.
“We know we have a good bit of work to do on my swing and hopefully we can get it right going into next week. We have been looking at swings from when I was playing well in the past and trying to get it back to where I was then.
“Obviously I have been trying to protect my back with the way I have been swinging and I just got into a couple of bad habits.
“My back is good - a lot better and I am pretty positive about it. I had another scan last Monday, which showed that it is a lot better. I am still not 100 percent but I am definitely on the right track. I am not taking medication, just Ibuprofen if it is a little sore.”
McIlroy tied for 19th in Houston last year thanks to a final round 69 and believes it is perfect preparation for the Masters.
He said: “It is set up with the Masters in mind - the same grass lengths, same green speeds and for me, this is really a preparation week for the Masters. As long as I can get my game in shape going into next Monday, I will be happy.”