Pádraig Harrington idolises Bernhard Langer. He overcame the yips three times. He has an incredible work ethic. He always go the extra mile.
What he really thinks of Tiger when he’s speaking to his mates behind closed doors is anyone’s guess but having overcome the yips himself to become a winner on the biggest stage again, he sees no reason why he can’t be some sort of inspiration to Woods.
Currently away from the game battling what looks like a clear case of the chipping yips, Woods may well have flicked on the golf on Monday and watched his old mucker Harrington win for the first time in the US since 2008.
Might his win give Tiger a lift? After all, Harrington was in the horrors with the putting yips in 2012.
“It might. Retief Goosen being in contention in LA last week is a big positive for me. When you see contemporaries performing, it makes it all the more plausible for you. You are never sure what others are thinking and I was a contemporary of Tiger in that we started our careers around the same time. So he could be looking at me thinking, ‘Paddy had a slump and he’s come back.’”
In truth, Harrington doesn’t stricly believe he’s “back”. He’ll know he’s really back when the bookies stop chalking 600-1 beside his name. Those bookies.
"They rarely get it wrong," he says.
“I don't want to be that guy down at 600 to 1,” he says. “I want to be a solid, consistent performer who can be expected to win every so often, rather than... one win could be a flash in the pan.”
Getting back to Tiger, he believes his win at the Honda can be a positive for the former world No 1, who will be 40 at the end of the year. Why not?
"Seeing contemporaries performing," he suggests. "If he is continually seeing young kids up there, it is easy to get into the mindset of thinking, maybe it is easier for them.
“So it could be a positive thing for Tiger. He’s got so much ability he doesn’t need to be back where he was in order to be back winning, and winning Majors. He dominated at one stage. He doesn’t need to get back to that level. He’s got plenty of game and talent to win with what used to be his B game.
“I can see him back, but it’s not easy. The wrong word would be laughable, but people come out and say “we can fix Tiger in 5 minutes or 10 minutes”, well that’s not the case. If you look at someone who has chronic putting problems or whatever, you can give all the advice but at the end of the day, something has to click inside them and they have to understand and believe it.
“And that can be a long and a hard process. You never know when that moment will come when he will find that clarity.”
If truth be told, Harrington is still working through his own issues but he has no problem admitting that even he — arguably Ireland’s most positive man — had dark, dark days of doubt when the yips. You could call it the heights of the heebie-geebies. Golfing hell.
“Oh absolutely. When you’ve got the yips, that's a big doubt. That's a hard thing to get through. Really, really hard. It gave me confidence that I did get through it though. At times it becomes very frustrating because you are doing all the right things and it is not working. That's really tough. There would be lots of doubts.”
And it here that the ‘Padraig inspires Tiger theory’ breaks down. Pádraig loves the doulbe-sided, six million piece jigsaw puzzle they call golf for what it is - a head wrecking challenge.
“The big upside is always that I love playing golf and wouldn’t do anything else. So no matter how tough it got in terms of ‘wow, this isn't working out and I'm doing the right stuff,’ I certainly didn't think I was unlucky.
“You just go, right, I still love the game, I am still fascinated my the game. You want to keep trying to figure it out. So no matter how bad it got, I would still have enjoyed that element of the game, of trying to understand it. And trying to control it, which is the big imp....I won’t go there with that word... the big difficulty”
“That's it. Yes. Haha.”
That’s not to say that Harrington is so utterly obsessed with the game that he’s been beating balls ever since he touched down in Dublin on Tuesday morning, setting new goals.
“No. I don’t want to though. The big key for me and I have won tournaments in the past, it’s not what this tournament means that’s important; it’s winning that’s important, enjoying that moment and not letting it pass by you.
“It would be foolish of me to be sitting here this week and worrying about my schedule, worried about what I am going to work on in my game. This is just a week to savour winning. They do cross my mind things like that but I’m not getting into it. I’m just enjoying this, letting it sink in and savouring the moment rather than trying to figure out where I am moving onto.
“I have learnt that in the past, you don’t win as often as you think you are going to win so when it does come around, just make sure you embrace it and have fun with it rather than think, what’s next.
“I don’t know if this is hearsay but Bernhard Langer would have been one of my heroes growing up and when he won his first Masters, he was seen next day at Hilton Head walking through the marsh on 18 with a wheel trying to get a yardage. That’s the sort of stuff I admire and makes me who I am.
“I now look at that and say, when you win something like that, it is time to enjoy it. You don’t necessarily have to be out there the next day as if it is a normal day. That’s the way I am taking it this week. I won last week and I am going to enjoy this week. I know I can say that to myself because I know I am going to be back working as hard as ever in a week’s time. For this week, no, I am going to take it easy.”
While he’s the eternal optimist, even he admits that there’s a best before date if he’s to add the green jacket of Masters champion to his major collection.
“I’ll probably say ‘it doesn’t have to be this week’ when I get to Augusta but I am becoming more aware that with the Masters I may have no more than six or seven more goes,”; said Harrington, who is exempt for the The Open and the US PGA for some years to come.
“In that sense, there is a finality to it with the Masters. I know I am not bulletproof anymore.”
Did winning at PGA National, a tough course that asks major questions, make him feel a little better prepared for Augusta?
“It’s slightly different from the PGA National, well I suppose there were plenty of birdies made there too. Augusta is a tough track to ask you to make a lot of birdies. If you’re leading at the PGA National going into the last nine holes and you shoot level par, you are pretty much guaranteed that you are going to win that tournament, which was shown the other day.
“Whereas if you go to Augusta and you go to the back nine on the Sunday and you’re leading and you shoot level par, you are unlikely to win. You have to shoot three or four under to win. That is the unique pressure at Augusta. Down that back nine, as much as you are under pressure, you have to make some birdies and take shots on; even make some eagles because that is the way they set the golf course up. It is a different type of pressure at Augusta in the last nine holes because of the way they set it up.”
Even though he was asked serious questions coming down the stretch on Monday and got just one wrong — the 17th in regulation player — the Honda simply reminded him of the importance of sticking around until the last nine holes, especially at the Masters.
“That’s never been a bigger issue of mine, hitting the big shots under pressure,” he said. “I have been confident with that. I haven’t had many chances to win over the last couple of years but when I have had the chances I’ve taken them. The Grand Slam was the same, obviously Indonesia and then Malaysia; it doesn’t come round often but I am good in that situation.
So I would look forward to it, as I always do…. Ronan reminded me when we came into the back nine (at the Honda) that the whole idea is to be in contention with nine holes to go, because you never know what’s going to happen.
“That would be the same at Augusta, particularly at Augusta. It has been shown over the years that you can make back to back eagles, we’ve seen guys play those holes in four or five under par and you can really make a move if you are there or thereabouts with nine holes to go. The whole idea is to be there as one of those guys who have a chance of winning coming down those nine holes.”
If Harrington feels he had something to prove to people, he’s not letting on. He’s letting his family and close friends bask in the “I-told-you-so” mode.
All he knows is that won’t be reading any of his Twitter replies — ever.
“I was happy to win. But there was definitely a sense of relief from people close to me. I can only assume that s because I closet myself from the outside world and opinions. People like to give their opinions to my family on what I am doing wrong over the last number of years and it is much tougher for them because they have to either bite their lip, or listen or be polite, or whatever. But I don't have to.
“Somebody is much less likely to come up to me and say to my face, oh what are you doing, you are playing terrible. You should be doing this. But they are quite happy to say it to a close friend or family. It is a lot nicer for them. It is a big sense of relief, not so much of a "told you so", but it certainly gives them a break for a little while anyway.
“That's why I don't read anything written about me. I tweeted from AT&T about a guy who looks after me in the States and it was pointed out that he was tweeting me back. It comes in under notifications and I didn't know this. So I hit notifications as I was sitting there and I read the first four.
“The first one comes up and it was giving Ronan grief so I shouted at Ronan and I read it out to him and had a good laugh at Ronan about what the tweet was saying. And then I read the next one, the next one, the next one then I went, ‘Right, turn that off.’
“I read four tweets and that is all I am going to read in my life. It was funny when it was somebody else. It was not funny at all ...... So obviously I don't have to put up with that very much in my life. But I could see the sense of relief in everybody else around me, because they get it a lot more than I do.”
Twitter trolls will never get to Harrington, who is too preoccupied with moving forward with his game and holding on the golden thread for a little while longer.
“The biggest challenge is I found something in my game that I have to keep fresh. I hit shots last week that were really pure. Now I hit some poor shots as well, so you’re never going to eliminate all the poor shots. Can I hit more of the good shots? Could I hold that concept in my head? That’s why I am excited about. That’s the challenge.
“What woudl prove that I’m back? Just consistency. At the end of the day, my career is going to be judged on winning. If I turned up every year and won one event, at the end of my career, I would be going, that's brilliant, you won X number of events.
“Players, we want to win every week but we are weird that way, we want to show solid, consistent form. Basically I don't want to be 600 to 1 to win the next tournament.
“Somebody started telling me the odds recently and it was a good barometer of how you are playing. The bookies never get it too far wrong. I don't want to be that guy down at 600 to 1. I want to be a solid, consistent performer, who can be expected to win every so often, rather than, one win could be a flash in the pan.
“Obviously I have jumped up in the world rankings. There are loads of ways of measuring it but loads of dependability in my performances would be nice. Professional golfers want that dependability, even though you get judged at the end of the year on whether or not you won. ‘Erratic-ness’ is probably a better way to go about it but we like dependability.”
Harrington said he was humbled by the hundreds of messages both he and his wife received. Several were from newly-minted European Ryder Cup skipper Darren Clarke.
“I got a text from Darren - pre and post. Absolutely. The Ryder Cup is a huge deal to me. While this has no effect... well it does have an effect on me. It pushes me into the bigger events that get me the ranking points that will get me there. So yeah, it does have an effect and it will have a bigger effect on my challenging to get into the top 15 to get into the Olympics. So those two things would be down the road and this is big stepping stone to help me, if I do perform going forward. I had to get past this first hurdle.”
As for the captaincy and the possibilty that he will now become less of a favourite to captain the team in 2018 and can look more to 2020, he said: “Possibly. I am that bit more relevant now. It all depends on how I play going forward. It really is nice to win but in terms of my own form, I have to show that it is not a one off, even though I won six tournaments ago. My return rate is pretty good at the moment. If I can win two out of every six I will be happy.”
Producing the good under the cosh is one of the hallmarks of Harrington’s game. Doing the simple things well is one of his weaknesses. Give Harrington choices, and he’s a sea of doubts. Put him in a corner and he’s a terrier.
“My challenge is to live with it when my back is not to the wall. You can’t have you back to the wall, you can’t be under nerves and pressure and that sort of stress, you can’t fake that, all that has to be in the moment.
“It only happens really, maybe teeing on the first tee when you’re leading, but generally when you’re coming down the last nine holes and the end is so close. When I say my back is to the wall there’s an end right there. This is it. There is finality. It’s going to finish, you’ve got to hit the shot.
“I stood up on the second play-off hole and I didn’t care if I hit it in the water. I had to hit the shot. If I hit it in the water, I lose. If I hit it close, I win.
“In real time, the problem is ‘If I hit it long I might be ok, if I hit it left, I might be ok, if I hit it long right, I might be ok.’ There’s all these options. In the play-off, hitting it long, first up, is pretty much taking a bogey and is guaranteeing losing, it’s pretty much the same as hitting it in the water. There was no option to play safe. In real time there were options. My biggest key in real time was do not hit it long left, that’s all I was trying not to do. In the play-off my biggest key was ‘hit this close’.
“Options have never been great for me. I’m better off with clarity.”
With three majors already in the bag, Harrington is not ready to set the bar at four. After all, he had dinner with his pal Phil Mickelson on Saturday night.
Is there a fourth Major?
“Yes. There are Majors left in me. I’ll go down the Phil Mickelson road on this one. We won’t leave it at one. Let’s say majors.”