Cautious Harrington ready to create right kind of memories

It is a picture that Padraig Harrington cannot dismiss from his mind. When he stands on the 15th fairway of Augusta National he does not so much think of sending a crisp iron shot arching onto the green as of a watery grave that drowned the hopes of, amongst others, Seve Ballesteros and Curtis Strange.

It is a picture that Padraig Harrington cannot dismiss from his mind. When he stands on the 15th fairway of Augusta National he does not so much think of sending a crisp iron shot arching onto the green as of a watery grave that drowned the hopes of, amongst others, Seve Ballesteros and Curtis Strange.

Both were Masters champions in waiting when they hit their approach shots at the 15th, a par five of 500 yards which has the name Firethorn, into the water in front of the green. Twelve months ago the hole was the easiest on the course, yielding five eagles, 96 birdies, 150 pars and just 26 bogeys and six double bogeys.

Nevertheless, Harrington doesn't see it as eagle territory. He has an indelible image of Ballesteros entering Davey Jones' locker. "There's so much history attached to the Masters that you carry other people's baggage around," Harrington said.

"I used to watch the tournament on television. Now when I stand on the 15th with a four-iron in my hand I remember Seve hitting it into the water. That makes it tougher. I can recall more shots hit by other people than by me. I also have a vivid memory of Scott Hoch missing that short putt in the play-off against Nick Faldo.

"This is a hard course to prepare for because it changes so much. As you're standing over a shot it can change by as much as two or three clubs. It is not easy to have a game-plan. You have to make decisions on the fly and that can be a recipe for disaster. There's an intimidation factor here."

Last April Harrington missed the cut in the Masters but the previous year was joint fifth, and his preparation this time has been impressive. A couple of weeks ago he had a grandstand finish in the Tournament Players Championship, the so-called fifth major, at Jacksonville in Florida and came within a shot of forcing the young Australian Adam Scott into a play-off. Last week he was fourth in the BellSouth Classic near Atlanta, with his earnings for the two adventures amounting to more than $1m (£550,000).

Harrington, who has died his hair blonde, a rather drastic departure for a former accountant from Dublin, has improved his world ranking to seventh. The next European is the Northern Irishman Darren Clarke. Clarke, who has shed several stone, stopped drinking beer and frequents the gym, is 14th in the rankings.

"Things are developing quite nicely," Harrington said. "My goal this week is to keep the stress levels down and take it easy. My expectations weren't high before coming to America but it's gone well. I'm always better when I don't talk the talk. A big black mark against me has been my poor chipping. At Augusta you have to be committed on every shot or you pay the penalty.''

As a dedicated, rapid fire conversationalist who planted a smacker on the Blarney Stone, not talking the talk does not come naturally to Harrington. If he is intent on letting his golf do the talking, his game has rarely been so eloquent. But then he has worked at it, as diligently as Clarke has in losing several stones.

"Every time you go on the driving range or the practice green Harrington's there," Vijay Singh, said. "You have got to give the guy credit."

As Singh is regarded as a workaholic, a player whose favourite habitat is the practice ground, this is praise indeed.

"Harrington is a much better player than he was a few years ago," Singh added. "I played with him at the Tournament Players Championship and the first thing I noticed was that his ball striking has improved considerably. His pace of play has also improved and that's a very good thing.''

This week Harrington, who has left his wife Caroline and his baby son Patrick at home, has no intention of being rushed. "This is not a week for wives and families," he said. "This is a time for golfers. In time you come to realise just what a special event this is and you should make every effort to look around, hear the birds and smell the roses."

All the bottle-blonde has to do now is to stop dreaming of hitting a four-iron into the deep blue water of Firethorn.

TEE-OFF TIMES

MASTERS (Augusta National, Georgia, US) Tee-off times for tomorrow and Friday (US unless stated, all times BST)

1.0pm & 4.07pm: T Aaron, C Coody, S Lyle (GB).

1.11pm & 4.18pm: F Funk, P Lonard (Aus), J Kaye.

1.22pm & 4.29pm: C DiMarco, J Rose (GB), R Mediate.

1.33pm & 4.40pm: G Player (SA), B Crenshaw, L Mize.

1.44 & 4.51pm: T Watson, (x) G Wolstenholme (GB), B Baird.

1.55pm & 5.02pm: R Beem, J Kelly, P Lawrie (GB).

2.06pm & 5.13pm: N Faldo (GB), S Verplank, A Cabrera (Arg).

2.17pm & 5.24pm: F Couples, (x) B Snedeker, D Toms.

2.28pm & 5.35pm: B Curtis, M Campbell (NZ), F Jacobson (Swe).

2.39pm & 5.46pm: A Palmer, (x) N Smith, B Estes.

2.50pm & 5.57pm: S Micheel, J Haas, C Montgomerie (GB).

3.01pm & 6.08pm: C Stadler, S Appleby (Aus), K Perry.

3.12pm & 6.19pm: P Mickelson, S Maruyama (Japan), D Clarke (GB).

3.23pm & 6.30pm: V Singh (Fiji), P Harrington (Irl), J Daly.

3.34pm & 6.41pm: B Langer (Ger), S Garcia (Sp), Z Lian-wei (China).

3.56pm & 1.0pm: J Byrd, C Parry (Aus), I Poulter (GB).

4.07pm & 1.11pm: C Riley, T Clark (SA), J Maggert.

4.18pm & 1.22pm: J Sluman, S Leaney (Aus), P Casey (GB).

4.29pm & 1.33pm: B Faxon, T Immelman (SA), S Flesch.

4.40pm & 1.44pm: T Herron, P Price (GB), B Tway.

4.51pm & 1.55pm: R Floyd, S Cink, C Perks (NZ).

5.02pm & 2.06pm: I Woosnam (GB), L Mattiace, T Hamilton.

5.13pm & 2.17pm: F Zoeller, K Triplett, E Romero (Arg).

5.24pm & 2.28pm: N Price (Zim), C Howell, JL Lewis.

5.35pm & 2.39pm: C Campbell, A Scott (Aus), KJ Choi (S Korea).

5.46pm & 2.50pm: J Nicklaus, T Izawa (Japan), A Cejka (Ger).

5.57pm & 3.01pm: M O'Meara, E Els (SA), R Allenby (Aus).

6.08pm & 3.12pm: J-M Olazabal (Sp), D Love, R Goosen (SA).

6.19pm & 3.23pm: M Weir (Can), (x) N Flanagan (Aus), J Leonard.

6.30pm & 3.34pm: T Woods, (x) C Wittenberg, T Bjorn (Den).

6.41pm & 3.45pm: J Rollins, B Davis (GB), T Petrovic.

(x) denotes amateurs

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