Belfast Telegraph

Monday 29 December 2014

Tiger Woods can have major say at Masters, says Padraig Harrington

Padraig Harrington says Tiger Woods is still a force
Padraig Harrington says Tiger Woods is still a force

As he cast a fond eye around shelves packed with glittering silverware and gilded memories, Padraig Harrington smiled and insisted space will need to be found for a few trophies more.

Stackstown Golf Club yesterday officially opened ‘The Harrington Room' in honour of their three-times Major Champion yet the Dubliner is determined not to let the dust settle on all those heavily laden trophy cabinets.

Harrington certainly doesn't view Tiger Woods as a museum piece either.

He's convinced Woods is capable of returning to winning ways at this week's Arnold Palmer Invitational or the US Masters in Augusta National in a fortnight's time.

Indeed, Harrington firmly believes the 35-year-old Tiger will go on to beat the record 18 Major titles won by Jack Nicklaus.

Woods hasn't won in 19 tournaments since his return from self-imposed exile at last year's Masters and embarking on a complex swing change with new coach Sean Foley certainly has contributed to the longest barren spell of his career.

“I fully believe that Tiger is going to win plenty of tournaments,” said Harrington.

“I still believe he's going to get through that barrier of 18 Majors. Tiger's in the great position that if he turns up and plays well, he probably will win — he's well capable of doing that.

“A lot of other players have to turn up, play well and then maybe get a few breaks on top of it to win a tournament,” the Irishman added.

“He may not win as consistently as he did before but who can tell. It's not inconceivable that he'll get hot again and have a year of 10 wins.

“He's won 14 Majors in 14 years — that's a ratio of one a year and he'll probably keep on at that pace.

“If he gets a week where he holes a few putts, all of a sudden he'll be on top of the world again. That's all he needs ... Tiger isn't that far away.

“Put it like this, I think you'd have to look long and hard to find a player who wouldn't swap their chances for his going into the US Masters at Augusta.”

Despite recent inconsistent form, Woods is bookies favourite to win at Bay Hill this week. Six previous wins at Arnie Palmer's place, the most recent in 2009, suggest Tiger should be able to hold off Ulster's World No 4 Graeme McDowell, arch-rival Phil Mickelson and title-holder Ernie Els if he plays anywhere close to his true potential.

“The toughest thing about Bay Hill is the firmness of its greens. They make it a very demanding course,” Harrington explained. “The strongest part of Tiger's game still is his iron play. That's why he's done so well there.

“He's got better distance control than most players with his irons so I imagine he'll be there or thereabouts on Sunday.”

Harrington has won only once in a world ranking event since then (in Johor, Malaysia, last October) and even though he agreed this season “has not gone as well as I'd have liked in terms of results” he added: “I've never been happier with my game.”

Due to return to action at next week's Shell Houston Open, Harrington, 39, concluded: “At no other stage in my career have I had a better understanding of my game ... I'm in the prime of my career and exceptionally motivated. I believe, absolutely, the best has yet to come.”

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