Harrington hostage to his putting but insists - "I don’t have anything to prove"

Padraig Harrington needs some confidence on the greens. Photo Eoin Clarke/www.golffile.iePadraig Harrington insists he’s got nothing to prove and feels under zero pressure to win a green jacket.

The Dubliner, 40, is reminding himself that he has won more majors in the last five years than any other player in the field - including Tiger Woods. But with his putting streaky and inconsistent, he’s decided to shrug off the pressure that he’s been heaping on his own shoulders since 2008 and take a new tack.

“I’ve won three Majors. I’ve already over-achieved, so I am not going to be disappointed if I don’t win more,” he said on Monday at Augusta, the course that once seemed hand built to match his skills.

“I’m in  a great position, I don’t have anything to prove. I’d love to win a green jacket and I love the golf course. But whether I win or don’t win one doesn’t take away from anything I have already done. That’s my attitude.

“I don’t have to go out and win this. I have won three Majors. If you’d offered me three Majors when I turned pro 16 years ago do you think I would have taken it? Everything else is a bonus.”

Despite that the Dubliner, 40, is desperate to avoid a hat-trick of missed cuts at Augusta and halt his slide to 96th in the latest world rankings. Next year will mark the fifth and final year of his Masters exemption for winning the 2008 US PGA. If he fails to win on the PGA Tour over the next two years or regain his place in the world’s top 50, he may not get another chance to win a green jacket.

After shooting 61 in Tampa recently, he knows he’s close. And yet he’s also so far away. The problem is on the greens. His putter, which was once his superpower, is now his kryptonite.

“I certainly haven’t putted well enough coming in, which has been my Achilles heel,” said the man who was being asked about the third leg of the Paddy Slam here three years ago. More recently people have been asking him if he was qualified for the Masters this year.

“Outside of that, I obviously have to try and build my confidence. As I was quick to point out to somebody last week - they kept asking me was I in the Masters - nobody has won more Majors in the last five years than me. 

“If we took this as a detached thing and we moved 25 years forward, I would be the player you’d say I was the guy most likely to win [this year] because I’ve won the most Majors in recent history. I have to look on it like that. If I get on form, I could be the man.”

After deliberately being handed courtesy car No 66 this week, he’s hoping it will be a better omen than making his 13th Masters appearance.

Retrieving his vital green maps from the back his sparkling Mercedes Benz transportation, he said: “Look. Car number 66 – given to me on purpose by the way. I’m not superstitious but four of those wouldn’t go amiss this week.”

Harrington has never beaten 68 around Augusta but he knows that his hopes of a green jacket will depend on his luck with the putter.

He’s been poor on the greens for the past year, especially from short range, but reckons his experience makes up for any mental wear and tear a golfer may suffer as he gets older. He also rules out the belly putter as a solution. (“I’m not comfortable anchoring anything to my body and I think it’s only a matter fo time before they ban it.”)

He said: “I don’t subscribe to the notion of wear and tear.  There are some great putters on the Senior Tour so that’s rubbish.

“I do subscribe to the notion that you change as a player, in that you go from being fearless to experienced. But putting-wise, nah.

“Perhaps you have more fear on the greens but if you’re more experienced you’re better able to handle it. The thing with my putting is my putting stroke has been perfect. Perfect roll, perfect strike, everything perfect.

“When you’re putting badly and everything is perfect, where do you look for a problem? So, that’s the interesting thing. Put me on any of any of these machines, the pace of my stroke, the length of my stroke, elevation, rhythm, strike, everything is perfect. I putt my best over the years, and this is going to sound very weird, when I am fighting an element of my putting.

“So say for example I’m worried about hitting a pull, I putt very well like that because I’m defending something all the way. I haven’t had that. I’m putting well, so it’s not like I am missing more putts to the right or more putts to the left.

“When you’re putting badly, there is usually something going on so when you get over a putt, you go ‘ooh’, and you’re tweaking a few putts left here and you might have to stay in the putt a little longer. Over the last year, there hasn’t been anything wrong. It’s not like I’m getting over putts and ‘if you keep your head stil…’ has not been like that.

“Everything has been good which has really opened up the fact I can miss right or miss left. I have been underborrowing a bit on putts, which, you known, never helps when you’re trying to make a good stroke. Outside of that…”

Asked what he’d tell people who wonder when Padraig Harrington will make a comeback, he said:  “Come back from what? Coming back to my norm or coming back to the heights of winning three majors in 13 months?

“If people asked when Padraig Harrington will come back, the answer would be this: I feel like I am a better player than I ever was. That’s the only thing that I can control.”