Harrington hopes Open exam leads to Masters joy

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The Independent Online

While Tiger Woods has given the outright betting to win the Masters a top-heavy feel, the presence of Padraig Harrington has provided the "leading European" market with a similar balance problem. If the bookmakers' even-money caution suggests there is only one man who can win this week, then there is also a heavy hint that only one of Nick Faldo's Ryder Cup team is capable of launching a realistic challenge. Harrington is as low as 20-1 to don his continent's first Green Jacket in nine years, while Justin Rose is the next best-priced at odds as high as 40-1. In other words the wily Irishman is twice as likely to prevail as the much-heralded young Englishman. And Harrington believes he knows why.

"Winning the Open at Carnoustie did two things for me," said the 36-year-old who broke the 31-major curse, stretching all the way back to Paul Lawrie, so memorably in Angus last July. "The first is that I can obviously look back to it and use it as a yardstick to judge what preparation suits me best for the majors. And the second, which I think is unquantifiable, is that having won a major I will feel a bit more relaxed about it all if I am in contention again."

Harrington certainly appeared relaxed as he became one of the last competitors to begin their preparations on the Georgia masterpiece yesterday. He claimed that "people tend to overdo it here" and stressed the importance of "not wearing yourself out and being fresh for Sunday". But more than anything he exuded the quiet confidence that defines him and will promise so much when he sets out tomorrow alongside Mike Weir and Jeev Milkha Singh.

As ever, yesterday's draw was cruel as well as kind to the British and Irish contingent. While Lee Westwood and Justin Rose were bemoaning end of the day tee times – the former on Thursday, the latter on Friday – when the greens will spike up and the birdies dry up, they were all relieved, however secretly, to have avoided Tiger Woods.

The most dubious honour in major golf falls to Angel Cabrera and Stuart Appleby. At least the Argentine and Australian will have the best view of what everybody here is assuming will be the beginning of a major campaign in which he will confirm his utter domination. In many ways, the overload of expectation is an achievement in itself. Or according to Harrington anyway. "All this Tiger Grand-Slam conjecture doesn't seem amazing because we have been talking about it for four months," reasoned Harrington. "We've gotten used to it. It's a long time since a player has been capable of winning a Grand Slam.

"You would have to go back to Jack Nicklaus and Ben Hogan and the greats of back then. It's definitely possible for him, but I do think it's a difficult task. If he does go and win all four he deserves a pat on the back."

Harrington delivered the last line with delicious understatement, but then that is how he always handles the spectre of Woods. "When it comes to Tiger you have to do your own thing," he said. "The only way to do it is play your own game and not think about him, or any other player." Indeed, the Dubliner's own thing seems perfectly suited to this unique test.

"You do need a good short game and that's one of my strengths," he said. "A lot of my practice is done with the idea that I can manage to play Augusta. I would dearly love to win here. That goes without saying."

Augusta Openers: First-round tee times at the Masters

All times BST; (US unless stated)

13.00 B Curtis, S Micheel

13.11 F Zoeller, B Wetterich, H Slocum

13.22 M O'Meara, T Kuehne (a), I Poulter (GB)

13.33 L Mize, P Lonard (Aus), H Mahan

13.44 G Player (SA), M Angel Jimenez (Sp), D Trahan

13.55 J Leonard, C Howell III, N Watney

14.06 S Verplank, R Allenby, M Campbell

14.17 B Crenshaw, M Thompson (a), N O'Hern (Aus)

14.28 S Lowery, R Karlsson (Swe), N Dougherty (GB)

14.39 F Couples, J Kelly, A Hansen (Den)

14.50 V Taylor, M Kaymer (Ger), A Oberholser

15.12 J M Olazabal, L Wen-chong, R Sabbatini (SA)

15.23 Z Johnson, L Donald (GB), G Ogilvy (Aus)

15.34 M Weir (Can), P Harrington (Irl), J M Singh (India)

15.45 T Woods, A Cabrera (Arg), S Appleby (Aus)

15.56 J Rose (GB), H Stenson (Swe), T Taniguchi (Japan)

16.07 T Hamilton, B Bateman

16.18 C Stadler, J Wagner, S Flesch

16.29 I Woosnam (GB), R Green (Aus), S Ames (Can)

16.40 B Weekley, T Immelman (SA), S O'Hair

16.51 S Lyle (GB), J Rollins, JB Holmes

17.02 S Hansen (Den), D Chopra, R Sterne (SA)

17.24 T Watson, B Snedeker, J Senden (Aus)

17.35 T Clark (SA), D Toms, N Fasth (Swe)

17.46 R Floyd, D Weaver (a), J Byrd

17.57 B Langer (Ger), P Marksaeng (Thai), W Austin

18.08 B Watson, S Garcia (Sp), M Calcavecchia

18.19 A Scott (Aus), P Casey (GB), R Goosen (SA)

18.30 V Singh (Fiji), S Stricker, S Cink

18.41 P Mickelson, A Romero (Arg), KJ Choi (S Kor)

1852 E Els (SA), S Katayama (Japan), J Furyk

1903 A Baddeley (Aus), C Villegas (Colom), L Westwood (GB)

(a) = amateur

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