Harrington condemned if he doesn’t contend
Currently 67th, Dubliner needs to leapfrog at least seven players to make tour finale in Dubai
Pádraig Harrington lines up a putt on the fifth green during the pro-am for the Turkish Airlines Open at the Montgomerie Maxx Royal Course in Antalya, Turkey. Photograph: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
Pádraig Harrington has faced more make-or-break moments in his career. That must-make up-and-down over the burn in front of the 18th at Carnoustie, for one, en route to his breakthrough Major win in the 2007 British Open.
Clutch putts in the Ryder Cup, for another.
It makes the challenge facing him here in the Turkish Airlines Open over the Montgomerie Maxx Royal course these next four days pale by comparison. But it remains a challenge, the latest of his career.
In his head, he remains an accountant. The numbers game has been played out in his mind. For the 42-year-old Dubliner to break into the top-60 on the European Tour order of merit and make it to next week’s tour finale in Dubai, he has set the absent Luke Donald – currently 55th – as his target.
“That’s the mark. If he was here, I’d have to do more . . . a top-10 finish, on my own, should do it.”
Harrington – one of three Irish players in the field, along with Shane Lowry and Damien McGrane, who benefited from a number of withdrawals, including former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel – concedes “it is not the end of the world for me” if he fails to make it to the European Tour’s closer (the DP World in Dubai) but the intent is there to make it.
He is currently 67th, needing to leapfrog at least seven players ahead of him in the order.
“I’ll just try and play well and win this week is really what you’re trying to do. It’s not necessarily about (trying to get) a top-10. That might become an issue later in the week. You start off to win. Absolutely,” he said.
Quite the quest
Winning, of course, has become quite thequest on tour for Harrington. His last official win on either the European Tour or the PGA Tour came in that US PGA championship success of 2008 and his last win anywhere came in the four-man field Grand Slam in Bermuda last year.
Can he win? “My game is good. It will be interesting to see if there is a difference between playing well and getting yourself into contention and then winning when that opportunity (comes).
“I would be happy with my game. My chipping and putting seems to be coming back nicely; they had been letting me down through most of the season.
“I haven’t been putting well for a while. I see some light at the end of the tunnel, which is nice. It’s been going on now for two years, my putting, and it is nice to putt well (again).
“I seem to be a bit happier on the greens at the moment and my chipping is better. It’s good. The long game has been better than ever, so that hasn’t been much of a concern to me. It was just the short game and not getting the most out of my rounds.”
Harrington’s labours with that short game have been reflected in that lack of recent wins and consequent fall down the world rankings, to his current position of 111th.
He knows he needs to start playing well – quickly – if he is to work his way on to the Ryder Cup team and also get a place in next April’s US Masters now that his exemption to play in Augusta has expired.
The restructuring of the US Tour to include late-year 2013 events adds to the challenge.
“By the time I start the PGA Tour next year (at the AT&T in Pebble Beach), there will be 10 events played, I think. I’ll be well behind.
Lot of issues
“The same thing over here (in Europe). I will have a lot of issues next year trying to get (the mandatory) 13 events up because of the fact I’m not in two of the Majors or the WGCs.
“I will need to play very well quickly because I am leaving it late to start. I’m not starting from a great position and I’m leaving it late. There’s not much I can do about that, I have to take that break (over the winter).
“It is not putting me in the best position for making the Ryder Cup team. It is pretty simple, from where I am, the same as the last Ryder Cup team that I missed out on (in Medinah), I have got to play very well to make the team.
“I’m not going to make it by playing average. It is not going to happen. I am not in the events gathering points here and there like last week (the HSBC in Shanghai). When you’re not in those events, it is hard to compete.”
Does it hurt when not playing in those WGC events? “As much as I would be wishing I was there and I’m watching it on TV, it doesn’t really hurt. No. Which might be an issue. It doesn’t hurt, no. I do want to be there, I’m not saying I don’t!”
Of course, the ideal solution to it all would be the most basic: to win again. “The more I get into contention, the more I’ll be up for it. I like what I see with my chipping and putting, I seem to be reading the greens better.”
This could be his final tournament of the year. It depends on the numbers game. If he makes the top-10, he will make it to Dubai. If not, then he’ll start that winter break earlier and add a tournament on at the start of next year’s campaign.