Harrington considers withdrawing from Masters

The frenzied preparations for the golfing year's first real "biggie" - The Players Championship here at Sawgrass - were put in stark perspective yesterday by the personal tragedy stalking Padraig Harrington that may force him to pull out of the Masters in two weeks' time.

The frenzied preparations for the golfing year's first real "biggie" - The Players Championship here at Sawgrass - were put in stark perspective yesterday by the personal tragedy stalking Padraig Harrington that may force him to pull out of the Masters in two weeks' time.

The Dubliner revealed he may withdraw from the year's first major as his father, Paddy, is suffering from inoperable cancer of the oesophagus. Harrington has scratched from next week's Bell South Classic and confessed he would far rather not be here trying to improve on his two second-places at the TPC in the last two years.

Indeed, only the urgings of his 72-year-old father, who returned to the Dublin hospital last week after the disease he has had for several years recurred, stopped him from staying in Ireland this week. "I certainly didn't want to come," said Harrington. "He is at home wanting to watch it, and it's only because of that that I'm here. Unfortunately there is a chance I could miss the Masters, as well. I don't want to, and my intention is to come."

However, Harrington's brief answer to a question regarding the prognosis painted a bleak picture. "No treatment," the 33-year-old said.

A decision regarding the Masters will be made next week, although there was no disguising Harrington's feelings as he spoke of the influence the former policeman and outstanding Gaelic footballer had on his career. "I've had the best possible background for playing golf, for playing all sports," he said. "I couldn't have got more encouragement from my dad without ever in any sense pushing or wanting to live his life through my sports. My dad would never tell me how to swing the club, but encouraged me to score well and at the end of the day that's really where my talents lie."

These talents carried him all the way to his maiden US Tour victory at the Honda Classic a fortnight ago and to a career-highest sixth place in the world rankings. And with two runners-up finishes to his name at a demandingly tight course that clearly suits his disciplined game, Harrington was the obvious leading contender of the 19 Europeans competing here. Of course, that must be doubted now although Harrington was keen to play down any sentiment as he chases the £800,000 first prize. "At the end of the day I've not got to have any excuses for playing and doing my job," he said. "If I don't win it's not going to be a burden, but there's no point going out there and making a couple of bogeys and wanting to go home."

Harrington's situation certainly put the row supposedly simmering between Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh into some sort of perspective. Woods admitted he had been called in by officials last week to have his driver tested to see if it was "legal". It was, but the fact that Tom Pernice, a fellow professional, had asked for the test has unsurprisingly become a talking point as he happens to be one of Singh's closest friends on tour.

If nothing else, it added further expectancy to four days - thunder storms willing - that should make the dryest golfing mouth water as "The Big Four" - Woods, Singh, Ernie Els and Mickelson - slug it out on a course that was simply made for television. A sight for Sawgrass eyes if ever there was one.

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