Pádraig Harrington hoping for a change of luck

Pressure on Dubliner as he hopes to qualify for Masters

Maybe, just maybe, Pádraig Harrington can start believing that his luck is changing for the better. The last action which the Dubliner undertook in his last competitive round was to sign for a double-bogey on his finishing hole of the second round of the Honda Classic two weeks ago, which included a penalty stroke for his ball moving as he prepared to play a shot from the pine straws, and led to him missing the cut.

Now, after a week at home in Dublin, the 42-year-old three-time Major champion is back for a stint in the United States which is kick-started by this week's Valspar Championship at Copperhead in Florida but which will also include next week's Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill after Harrington was one of 18 players to receive sponsor's exemptions into the limited 120-player field.

The invitation from Palmer is a help to Harrington as he desperately tries to claim a place in the field for next month's Masters tournament.

Must win
His exemption for the season's first Major finished last year and, having fallen out of the world's top 50 in the rankings, he is now ranked 147th, Harrington must win one of the four pre-Augusta tournaments he is playing: this week's Valspar, next week at Bay Hill and then back-to-back tournaments in Texas, where he is playing the Valero Texas Open and the Shell Houston Open.

“I am trying to get into the Masters every week,” admitted Harrington of his desire to win a tournament that will bring the bonus of a place in Augusta and maintain an unbroken sequence that stretches back to his debut appearance in 2000.

Although he missed the cut in the Honda, Harrington remained on in Florida for a "working weekend" with coach Pete Cowen and sports psychologist Dr Bob Rotella and claimed to be "extremely happy with everything" before going home to Dublin for a week's break from tournament play.

Harrington is one of two Irish players in the field in the Valspar, where he is joined by Darren Clarke. The Ulsterman is exempt for the Masters thanks to his British Open success in 2011, which brought a five-year ticket to Augusta.

Tiger Woods, meanwhile, aims to return to action in next week's tournament in Bay Hill. The world number one suffered a recurrence of his back spasms during Sunday's final round of the WGC-Cadillac championship where Patrick Reed, at 23 years of age, became the youngest winner of a WGC title.

After his round, Woods, who was forced to withdraw after 13 holes of the final round at the Honda when the injury first flared up, remarked: “It’s just a matter of keeping it calm . . . it would be nice to have a week off where I can shut down and get some treatment.”

Woods, at least, will be turning up in a comfort zone at Bay Hill, where he has won eight times in his career.

There are eight Irish players competing in the Hassan Trophy in Agadir, among them Michael Hoey who triumphed on the unique Royal course – located inside the palace grounds – in 2012. Hoey is joined by Shane Lowry, Simon Thornton, Damien McGrane, Peter Lawrie, Paul McGinley, David Higgins and Kevin Phelan, who secured a top-10 finish in the Tshwane Open on his last outing and who is now the tour professional attached to Mount Juliet.

Successively defend
Marcel Siem, the German who triumphed last year, is looking to become the first champion to successively defend.

The Hassan Trophy is one of his favourite events. “Playing inside the palace walls gives a special feel to the week . . . it feels a real privilege to play the King’s course. It has got to be one of the very few tree-lined courses in the world which is right on the coastline. Every hole is a different challenge.”