Augusta National asks questions no golfer wants to answer. Come to The Masters with any weaknesses and they will be rigorously examined and ruthlessly exposed.
So it was with Padraig Harrington at the weekend.
After his heroics at Royal Birkdale and Oakland Hills last year, the Dubliner lives for the heady rush of being in contention on the final nine holes at the Major Championships.
Yet Harrington, like those other Sunday matinee idols, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, had to settle for the role of bit-part players yesterday as the battle for the Green Jacket unfolded.
It’s easy, in hindsight, to pinpoint the precise moment when Harrington’s prospects of a place in history as only the third man to complete a hat-trick of Major titles were shattered.
Ending up left of the fairway at the second hole was, sadly, one of the last places in the world you’d want to hook your tee shot. Hansel and Gretel would need more than breadcrumbs to find their way out of the dark woods to the left of this downhill par five.
The most curious aspect of the calamitous quadruple-bogey Harrington racked up was his aggressive decision to take on the shot out of the trees with his hybrid. Having watched this effort ricochet off a pine trunk and fly even deeper into trouble, he simply dropped another ball at his feet and went at it again, with similar consequences.
It certainly took his playing companion Lee Westwood by surprise. “Padraig was probably trying to squeeze a bit too much out of his second shot, take it a bit too close to the trees, and that’s not like him, as he usually thinks his way around the course really well.”
It’s a measure of Harrington’s mental strength that he kept his sang froid and managed to rack up three birdies before the turn. However, his prospects of victory would expire as he played the back nine in level par, a disappointing 73 leaving him 10 strokes off the lead as he set out yesterday.
Under Saturday’s circumstances, many golfers would have marched straight to the clubhouse and shouted a few profanities. Yet Harrington is made of sterner stuff, showing the resilience which has helped him win three Major titles by shrugging of any misfortune with aplomb.
“These things happen. Everybody else seems a little bit more gutted than I am. I understand the nature of this game,” he said, adding with a chuckle: “thankfully, Lee Westwood was marking my card. I didn’t put the nine on my marker’s card until a few holes afterwards.”
Harrington insists he never bought into all the media hype about the so-called ‘Paddy Slam’, while he does not view The Masters as ‘an opportunity missed.’
“It’s more important I win a number of Majors in my career. So if I go and win them the rest of this year or next year, I’m comfortable with that. The amount of Majors you win is the key to me. I’ll go forward and keep trying to do it. I’m not deflated.”
Harrington’s confidence in his basic formula for winning Majors remains unshaken — his preparations for The Masters were not as smooth as he’d have liked but the work he did in the run-up to Augusta will give him a head start for June. The bottom line is that neither he nor anybody else is capable of winning Majors at will.
“You can’t turn up and beat these guys on demand. I just don’t have that ability and maybe there isn’t anyone around at the moment who has,” he said.
“I understand that and part of that is not getting caught up in the hype of going out there and playing anyone else’s game. I can only play my own game and I realise if I do that often enough, as I’ve done over the last couple of years, I’ll get myself in enough Majors and I’ll win some of them.”