Padraig Harrington arrived at the Honda Classic believing he could make the world’s top 50 and qualify for next week’s WGC-Cadillac Championship by winning in Palm Beach Gardens this week. Not quite.
The problem is that he was basing his calculations on the fact that last year’s winner rory Sabbatini got 54 world ranking points. This year there are just 50 points on offer for the winner and that means Harrington, now 87th in the world, is likely to move to just 54th if he wins the title for the second time in his career.
“Knowing you have to win is easier than thinking you have to finish in the top three,” Harrington said early on Tuesday. “Winning is winning. That’s it. It actually clarifies things. If I was coming in this week thinking, I need a top 20, I would be a bit cautious and anxious. It’s all duck or no dinner.”
Harrington spoke before he, or this writer, had properly perused the world ranking points on offer at PGA National this week.
The absence of world No 1 Luke Donald this week has proved to be crucial to the reduction in points from 54 to 50 as only two members of the world’s top 10 are in action at the Honda - Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood, the world No’s 2 and 3.
With 54 points for the winner, a Harrington win would have catapulted him to 50th in the world and on to Doral. And while he appeared resigned and somewhat disappointed when he heard the bad news last night, he won’t be any less motivated to win the tournament. He’s still got another chance to make it to Doral but it’s not in his hands completely.
The top 10 in the FedEx Cup standings on Sunday night also qualify for Doral but even if Harrington wins the 500 points on offer for the champion, his fate will not be in his own hands players such as Spencer Levin, Charlie Wi and John Rollins all capable of moving past him with a second place finish.
He knows that he needs a big year if he is to have any chance of qualifying for the Ryder Cup team to face the USA in September.
“I am in such a bad position in the Ryder Cup in terms of points that it ain’t about me turning up and playing solid for the rest of the year to make the team,” he said.
“For me to qualify for the team, I am going to have to have a big year and that’s it. I am going to have to go and win tournaments.”
While he won the Honda Classic just across the road from PGA National at Mirasol in 2005, Harrington could only manage a share of 40th on his last appearance here two years ago.
He knows that the Champions Course is going to test his game to the limit. But he believes that’s a good thing.
“This is a tough golf course, a really tough course,” he said. “As much as tough courses suit me, there are some very intimidating holes here apart from the Bear Trap holes (15th to 17th). The sixth is one of the toughest par fours of the year and it is definitely a course that will beat you up. Thankfully it will beat other players up more than me.”
Rory McIlroy can go to world No 1 if he wins this week but there is also much at stake in terms of Ryder Cup qualifying points for Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke.
Open champion Clarke hasn’t had a top-10 finish since he won The Open but his mental coach Dr Bob Rotella is hoping he can turn the 43-year old Ulsterman around as dramatically as he did during that memorable week in Sandwich.
Having spent some time with Padraig Harrington early on Tuesday morning, the famous mental coach gave Clarke considerable time too, just over a week after spending the weekend with the Dungannon man in preparation for last week’s WGC-Accenture Match Play in Tucson.
If Rotella felt that Clarke’s heightened expectations since winning the Claret Jug were his main problem, he wasn’t prepared to address the matter.
“I don’t spend much time thinking about where he has been, all I do is think about where he is going to go,” Rotella said of Clarke’s miserable run of form since last July’s heroics. “We spent some good time together in Tucson last week but he just ran into a buzz saw in Nick Watney.
“When he gets in the right place, he is so simple to work with, it’s ridiculous. But when he gets lost, he gets complicated.”
US Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III said yesterday that barring injury, Tiger Woods would almost certainly be part of his team.
“If he plays and he’s healthy, again, I would have a hard time seeing him not making the team one way or another,” Love said.
As for his old pal Clarke, the US skipper insisted that he’d love to see him at Medinah too.
“I’m assuming that they way he has been playing that he will make it,” Love said, making it clear that he has not been looking at Clarke’s scores for the past six months. “I’d certainly want The Open champion in my team.
“I asked Jose Maria last year if I could have Darren for an assistant captain and he said no. It’s a long way away but if I was European captain, I would hope that Darren qualified or that I could pick him. I’d love to see him play one more.”
As for McIlroy, who missed a chance to become the first Irishman to reach world No 1 when he lost to Hunter Mahan in the final of the WGC-Accenture Match Play on Sunday, the 22-year old can overtake current No 1 Luke Donald if he wins this week.
A win for world No 3 Lee Westwood and a solo second place for McIlroy would leave both players just short of Donald, who is resting this week before returning at Doral. Sadly, Harrington won’t be joining him.