Pic: golffile.ieGallows humour? Or a cunning, under the radar ploy by a man who’s as dangerous as anyone in the 64-man field?

In truth, it was probably a little of both from Padraig Harrington when he analysed his draw in a star-studded upper section of the Sam Snead bracket.

“Its unbelievable, isn’t it,” Harrington said of his draw. “You’ve got good players and then other players in great form. It’s obviously tough.

“If you were sitting down at a poker table with the eight people in my mini group, and you were looking for the sucker, I don’t see one. Normally, if you don’t see the sucker at the poker table, you’re it.”

The out-of-sorts Dubliner face the Australian match play specialist and two-time Accenture winner Geoff Ogilvy in the first round. In soccer parlance, he’s been handed the Group of Death because even if he sends the Australian home, it doesn’t get any easier.

A victory over Ogilvy would pit world No 35 Harrington against the winner of the match between fallen idol Tiger Woods and the resurgent Dane Thomas Bjorn.

Should he come through that one, Harrington is on course for a potential clash with Dustin Johnson, Mark Wilson, Bubba Watson or Bill Haas, a quartet with five tour wins between them in recent months.
After that, his likely quarter-final opponent is England’s Paul Casey, the beaten finalist in this event for the past two years.

“At the end of the day I can be up against anyone in this field and find a reason why he is great and why I am unlucky,” Harrington said. “There are very few weak links in [the top] 64.

“But there is no doubt that nobody is going to be happy to see me either on the form I have shown this year. It has been erratic, either very good or very poor so nobody likes that in matchplay.”

As Bjorn pointed out: “If you win the first three rounds, you almost feel you should win the tournament. But that’s not the way it works out.”
Erratic is one way of describing Harrington’s early season form. Worrying is another.

Following his first round disqualification from the Abu Dhabi Championship in early January, the Dubliner has turned promised Friday night positions into disappointing results,  finishing 63rd in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and 55th in last week’s Northern Trust Open at Riviera.

He insists that his problems stem from his tendency to get down on himself over his bad shots and think too much about the technical issues that come with making a slew of changes to your golf swing over the winter months.

“I am not coming in here searching for anything,” Harrington said. “I would like to have a few more rounds under my belt and the confidence of finishing off a tournament but at least I have had some fleeting moments.

“I’d like to be able to put it together for 72 holes. Early doors I have got into contention quite a bit this year but I need to tidy things up. I am happy with the form but I need to rule out the silly mistakes. Matchplay is awkward. I’d prefer if it was 72 holes and we were at Doral this week because I know my game is ready to go but I’d like to see some of that form appear so I have that confidence going forward.”

In an 18-hole matchplay sprint against a player of Ogilvy’s quality, he’s just hoping that he will can play aggressively enough to take advantage of any errors the Australian happens to make.

“Geoff is a match play specialist,” Harrington said. “He is very good at just hitting it and finding it and then keeping going from there, which is a match play attitude. He doesn’t get into it too much, he just fires away and he is aggressive.”

Matchplay aggression is something that Harrington has pinpointed as a frequent failing in his game since he joined the professional ranks - a point brought home to him when he lost to Jeev Milkha Singh in the first round last year.

Fully aware that he hasn’t gone past the second round in this event since 2006, he said: “I overachieved and played well above myself in match play as an amateur. Professional golf 72 holes strokeplay has knocked the edges off me. It is all about being steady and cautious and safe and I have lost a bit of that sparkle in matchplay.

“When I got knocked out last year, I looked back at when my opponent was in a slight bit of trouble and I started hitting to 20 feet and he’d get up ad down. I’ve got to assume more from my opponent when he is slightly off and be more aggressive myself.”