James Lawton: Are we all hoping to play against Tiger? No, says Harrington
Thursday 30 September 2010
Padraig Harrington, who is repeatedly being asked to justify his presence here, has never been a man to duck a question. Indeed, there have been times when he provided two or three answers to the same one.
No one has yet to charge him with evasion, however, and yesterday this thinking man's golfer – and qualified accountant – sent two of the thorniest queries surrounding this 38th Ryder Cup straight back down the middle of the fairway.
Question 1: Is his young countryman Rory McIlroy unwise, even downright wrong, to say that every European player would welcome the chance to strike at Tigers Woods when he is down? Answer: yes.
Question 2: Is his captain, friend and protector Colin Montgomerie's volatile personality a potentially killing handicap if, as expected, the going is tight come Sunday's climactic round of singles? Is Monty in danger of blowing up? Answer: no.
According to Harrington, whose three major titles have counted little in the controversy over the captain's decision to hand him a wild-card place instead of the cover boys of English golf, Paul Casey and Justin Rose, McIlroy's theory on the Tiger's vulnerability is quite dangerously wide of the mark.
"I've got to believe Tiger has come here in a similar frame of mind to me," said the 39-year-old Dubliner. "I'm sure this time, having been a captain's pick, he is going to be a lot more enthusiastic about the Ryder Cup. In the past I'm sure every European player would have liked to have played against him because every one always assumed he was going to win.
"It is different now. In many ways it's going to be a tougher match this time around. In previous years it was a shot at nothing getting to play against Tiger. Now he will be trying harder and so that makes him more dangerous."
The Irishman is equally emphatic that some are seeing weakness in the Europe captain where none exists.
No, he's not going to crack under the pressure, insisted Harrington. "I don't think he has to make any adjustment in his personality," he said. "I think one thing you will always find out about Monty is that if you walk into a player's lounge anywhere in the world and he is sitting at a table, that table will always be full. It will be full of players. He's always good company, he always had strong opinions.
"His personality is ideal for the captaincy because he does have the ability to build up somebody's confidence by saying a kind word. But I also believe he has the ability to make the tough decisions that need to be made.
"He loves to be in control. He loves the one-on-one. [As a player] he always loved to affect the other guy's play by hitting good shots. Every time he was picked number one in the Ryder Cup he would put out his chest and he would be two inches taller. He loves being the leader but in a match-play format he likes to control that; he hits it close, he wants to put pressure on the competition. It's tougher in stroke play because you can't control 156 guys. In match play the job is putting pressure on the other guy – and Monty revels in that."
Meanwhile Harrington, after a brilliant final round of 64 in Paris on Sunday, has the relatively minor task of re-making himself into as one of golf's most formidable performers, a status he carried triumphantly to the last Ryder Cup in Kentucky with two major notches on his gun-belt, the Open and the PGA, then dwindled under the weight of the attack launched by American captain Paul Azinger.
Azinger whipped up the locals and had Muhammad Ali, no less, along to rally his troops. Harrington simply could not respond. "Sometimes, you are down after hitting some peaks, and you don't even know it before you go out to play. There was no reason for [European captain Nick] Faldo to know it. Of course he was going to play me. I'd just won two majors."
It was another reason to remember that sometimes, in golf, as in life, things are not quite as they appear. So perhaps the least he could do was to point this out to young Rory McIlroy.
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