I’m ready to play best golf of my career, says bullish Harrington

The masters should look out. The game's forgotten champion believes he is about to play the finest golf of his career and is ready to remind everyone of his major qualities at Augusta next week.

Padraig Harrington has a seven-under total here at the Shell Houston Open to back his claims. Doubtless the eyeballs will roll at this statement from the Irishman, who has made a habit of uttering the baffling. The latest is that, regardless of the three major titles he won in the 13 months from the 2007 Open, only now will his purple patch begin.

"I possibly am golf's forgotten man but that's not a bad thing because I believe I'm going to play the best golf of my career going forward," said Harrington, who turns 40 in August. "I've had a lot of closure in the understanding of my game recently. This is the best place I've been in the last 20 years."

A 69 left Harrington two off the early second-round pace set by Chris Kirk. After five birdies on his outward half (he started on the 10th) he admitted "falling asleep" with three consecutive bogeys. No matter, an eagle on his penultimate hole awoke him. A driver, five-iron to 15 feet and his renowned putting stroke did the rest. Harrington has won only one top-flight title since the USPGA in 2008, but the mojo is clearly back. The question must be: is the consistency?

The next two days will be telling. As they will for Phil Mickelson and Lee Westwood. Last year's one and two at Augusta went head-to-head again over the first rounds and with a 70 and a 72 respectively go into today's third round level on four-under. They both had to bow to the brilliance of the other member of their group, Anthony Kim. The defending champion's 64 hauled him to eight-under.

It will take a big effort for either Mickelson or Westwood to prevail, but both have greater motivation that a mere Masters tune-out. Westwood needs a top two finish to replace Martin Kaymer as world No 1, while all Mickelson needs to top Tiger Woods in the rankings for the first time in 14 years is a top-36 finish.

Woods is already aware he will no longer be rated a top-five golfer. England's Paul Casey is guaranteed to leapfrog above him and Europe must now wait to see if for the first time in the 25-year history of the rankings they will boast the top five in the world.