Harrington mystifies rivals by missing PGA

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The Independent Online

Last autumn when Padraig Harrington decided he was going to skip the Volvo PGA Championship at Wentworth he knew it was going to be a controversial decision. Since then the Irishman has become the leading European on the world rankings and, following his victory in the Deutsche Bank SAP Open on Sunday, the leader of the Order of Merit.

For such a player to miss this week's flagship event on the European Tour is even more extraordinary. But Harrington is sticking to his schedule and will rest this week before playing in Jack Nicklaus's Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village and then the Kemper Open as preparation for the US Open.

"If I change my schedule now I could mess up the rest of the season," Harrington said. "I'd be playing six weeks in a row and it could affect my preparation for the US Open. The way I am playing now I would love to see if I could play that golf course but it all comes down to my record." Harrington was talking about his record on the West Course at Wentworth specifically in the PGA, which is played in the spring, rather than at the World Match Play in October.

In the autumn, Harrington shot an approximate 61 on the course and finished runner-up to Ian Woosnam. But at the PGA the Dubliner has never finished in the top 10 and last year missed the cut, the only time he did so all season.

Meanwhile Anders Hansen set a new tournament record of 19 under par. "I found that incomprehensible," Harrington said. "How could anyone have shot 19 under around there? Unlike other courses, Wentworth seems to have an effect on me. I just find it a tough, tough course. It is an ultra-straight hitters course. Guys like Colin Montgomerie turn up every year and finish in the top five. I'm struggling to be in the top 50.

"It does my head in. The way I'm looking at it is that I'm having a break. It's a tournament I'd really love to win and I do want to master it but right now it beats me up."

Harrington puts his success on the course later in the year down to it then being softer and less bouncy, while the greens are perfect because so few players compete in the Match Play. The decision was not taken without months of discussion with family, friends and officials from the European Tour, with whom it cannot have gone down well.

Other players are also mystified. Montgomerie, a three-times winner of the PGA, said: "It seems very strange. He shot 61 in the World Match Play, it's the same course, isn't it?" "I'm very surprised," said Nick Faldo. "The way he has been playing you would think he can tackle anything. Sure there's some courses you don't get on with, but when you are playing well you think you can take anything on. It's a strange one, but it's his decision."

Harrington's play-off win over Thomas Bjorn in Hamburg at least brought him relief from his mounting second places, which have increased by two this season. "I think I wanted it a little bit more than Thomas," he said. "If I hadn't won I didn't know how I was going to explain away this one."

* Harrington was rewarded for his win in Germany with a move of one place in the world rankings, up to eighth. Vijay Singh moved back into the top five thanks to his victory in the Byron Nelson Championship at the weekend. The Fijian's 13th Tour win took him three places up to fourth, but the American Phil Mickelson drops out of the top five for the first time since he finished second at the 2000 International.

WORLD RANKINGS (US unless stated): 1 T Woods 16.40pts ave; 2 E Els (SA) 8.96; 3 D Love III 7.90; 4 V Singh (Fij) 7.27; 5 M Weir (Can) 6.94; 6 P Mickelson 6.78; 7 D Toms 6.42; 8 P Harrington (Irl) 6.34; 9 R Goosen (SA) 5.61; 10 J Furyk 5.60; 11 N Price (Zim) 5.09; 12 S Garcia (Sp) 4.32; 13 R Allenby (Aus) 3.98; 14 J Leonard 3.95; 15 C DiMarco 3.92; 16 R Estes 3.76; 17 S Hoch 3.63; 18 J Kelly 3.48; 19 R Mediate 3.45; 20 Charles Howell-III 3.31