Belfast Telegraph

Harrington has lot to do to be Master

Padraig Harrington has played in every US Masters since millennium year 2000, finished twice in the top-10, averaged 72.5 shots a round, and won in total nearly 750,000 dollars.

As Open champion and lone Irishman in next week's Augusta line-up, the 36-year-old Dubliner shoulders a lot of weight on a course now among the longest, and toughest, in tournament golf at close to 7,450 yards.

This is how it was 12 months ago when Zach Johnson's winning score of 289 (one-OVER-par) equalled the highest on record in the Masters by Jack Burke and Sam Snead way back in the 1950's.

Even the Tiger failed to better par in any of his four rounds as world golf's most photogenic course tested the patience and skills of everybody.

As scoring on a cold, windy third day soared to an average of 77-plus, Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia and Darren Clarke were already packed for home, all on 10-over-par and licking their wounds.

Never again will Augusta be humiliated by winning figures of 18-under (270), Woods' record-low tally in 1997, the year he won the event by a runaway 12 shots.

"It's close to 500 yards longer than when I first played there," says Harrington.

"No longer can we fly tee-shots over fairway bunkers, and the landing areas have been tightened with the planting of nearly a thousand new trees.

"And it'll be tough again this time."

Clarke's absence from this elitist field is a big disappointment.

It's the first Masters he will have missed since closing with great scores of 67 and 69 for a satisfying eighth place on his debut 10 years ago, but so far this season he has blown hot and cold, and didn't really expect an invitation from Bill Payne, the host club's new chairman.

It was as No.1 marksman on Augusta's par-5 holes that the straight-hitting Johnson won his first major.

Of the 16 long holes played, he alone birdied eleven of them, and as the 20th best golfer in the current world rankings, Zach looks poised to make a strong defence of the trophy.

Hot favourite, of course, is Woods, four times champion already, and clearly geared for a historic sweep of all four majors this season.

This will be Tiger's 14th Masters, in which his stroke average of 70.95 spanning fifty rounds is also the lowest in tournament history.

Retief Goosen, with four top-three finishes in six years, always seems to find a good putting touch here.

The mild-mannered South African went from shooting twin 76s, and only surviving the cut via the 10-shot rule, to leading the pack at one point, and Phil Mickelson, too, will be heavily backed despite last year's slip-up.

It was the first time in nine successive starts that left-hander Phil had failed to finish in the top ten, and he has won the event twice.

Garcia has broken par only once in his last 12 rounds at the Masters, and is out of favour, but not Londoner Justin Rose or former US Open champion, Geoff Ogilvy.

Geoff suffered in the cold and wet of a third-day 81 twelve months ago, but covered the other 54 holes in one-over-par, sound golf in a tournament no Australian has ever won. Can he break this Augusta jinx?

Top prize next weekend is a staggering 1.35 million dollars out of a record pot of nearly $$7.5 million. The action begins on Thursday.

HARRINGTON'S MASTERS CARD - 2000: 76 69 75 71 -- 291, jt-19th. 2001: 75 69 72 71 - 287, jt-27th. 2002: 69 70 72 71 - 282, jt-5th. 2003: 77 73 - 150, missed cut. 2004: 74 74 68 72 - 288, jt-13th. 2005: 72 77 - 149, missed cut. 2006 : 73 70 75 74 - 292, jt-27th. 2007: 77 68 75 73 - 293, jt-7th.

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