Fit-again Harrington ready for PGA Tour start in Hawaii

Three-time Major winner and Graeme McDowell in field at Champion of Champions

Pádraig Harrington: the 44-year-old is playing in the Hyundai Champion of Champions tournament, with just 32 players in the field, for the first time. Photo:  Victor Fraile/Getty Images)

Pádraig Harrington: the 44-year-old is playing in the Hyundai Champion of Champions tournament, with just 32 players in the field, for the first time. Photo: Victor Fraile/Getty Images)

 

Some six weeks on from undergoing keyhole surgery to rectify a knee injury which had troubled him through the latter part of last season, Pádraig Harrington has chosen new terrain – on the Hawaiian island of Kapalua – to hit the ground running. The 44-year-old is playing in the Hyundai Champion of Champions tournament, with just 32 players in the field, for the first time.

In the past, although qualified on a number of occasions, the Dubliner chose to bypass this traditional start to the golfing year on the PGA Tour.

This time, Harrington – in the field courtesy of his Honda Classic win last March – is on a two-week working trip which will also take in next week’s Sony Open in Hawaii, and fully aware that the one area that needs considerable improvement on last year is his putting.

Where once acknowledged as one of the top putters on tour, Harrington’s travails on the greens through the 2015 were reflected in statistics that proved eerily similar on both sides of the Atlantic. He was ranked 107th in putts per round on the European Tour last season, and was also 107th in putting average on the PGA Tour in the United States.

Harrington, incidentally, was ranked 168th in “one putts” on the US circuit in 2015.

Harrington and Graeme McDowell are both in the field in Kapalua, where the two top-ranked players in the world – Jordan Spieth and Jason Day – are also in action.

It is the first time since 2005 that the current one and two ranked players off the world rankings are in the field, with Day needing a win if he is to leapfrog Spieth.

Rory McIlroy, the world number three, won’t reappear on tour until the Abu Dhabi championship later this month.

McDowell’s win the in OHL Classic at Mayakoba in November earned him a ticket to Kapalua, where, in his only previous visit in 2011, he equalled the course record of 62.

The contrast between the Champion of Champions tournament on the PGA Tour with the South African Open – a dual-sanctioned European Tour and Sunshine Tour event – is quite marked in financial terms. The PGA tour event, with no cut and a 32-man field, has a purse of €5.4 million and 52 world ranking points whilst the South African Open has a purse of €888,000 and 32 world ranking points.

Sponsors invites

Paul Dunne

He also plays in next week’s JoBurg Open but is relying on sponsors’ invites to get into the Desert Swing – which takes in Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Dubai – but he did receive good news on the invite front with a sponsor’s invitation into next month’s AT& Pebble Beach pro-am next month.

The South African Open, meanwhile, lost its biggest draw with the decision of Charl Schwartzel to pull out due to illness which affected him over the off-season.

In a statement, Schwartzel said: “I am hugely disappointed . . . everybody knows how keen I am to win our national Open and, having come so close the last couple of years and following my good form (in winning Alfred Dunhill championship) at Leopard Creek (in November), I was really looking forward to contending at Glendower.”

Schwartzel is hopeful of being fit enough to play in next week’s JoBurg Open, which he has won twice previously.

Meanwhile, Shane Lowry’s wedge shot to the 18th hole in the final round of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational – which had already won the Sky Sports Shot of the Year – has been voted the 2015 European Tour Shot of the Year, presented by Emirates.

Lowry received over 25 per cent of the online vote, beating off Rory McIlroy, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Patrick Reed for the award.

Horrific lie

EurAsia Cup
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