Padraig man of match play

Andy Farrell believes form this week may count next year

Of course, it is a shame Tiger Woods will not be there, nor any of the other leading Americans. Of course, the Cisco World Match Play has lost some of its former glamour. Even with a cash injection to take the purse up to £1m, this week's proceedings over the West Course at Wentworth will have the feel of a European Tour event as the old members Ernie Els, Vijay Singh and the US PGA champion Bob May are welcomed back.

Of course, it is a shame Tiger Woods will not be there, nor any of the other leading Americans. Of course, the Cisco World Match Play has lost some of its former glamour. Even with a cash injection to take the purse up to £1m, this week's proceedings over the West Course at Wentworth will have the feel of a European Tour event as the old members Ernie Els, Vijay Singh and the US PGA champion Bob May are welcomed back.

But is there not something of an inverted compliment being paid here to the developing talent on the home continent? After all, who wants to fly over for the week only to be thumped by Thomas Bjorn or a Padraig Harrington, which is what happened to Paraguay's Carlos Franco last year when the Irishman beat him 7 and 6 in the first round.

Harrington went on to beat Els, the three-time former winner, the next day at the 38th hole. It was only the South African's third defeat in 14 matches over 36 holes at Wentworth. Harrington ran out of steam in the semi-finals against the eventual champion, Colin Montgomerie, but he had proved the point again that he is a dangerous opponent in the head-to-head form of the game.

Much of this is down to his dogged approach, a relentless, if never speedy, determination to hang on and an ability to hole the putts that matter. Franco was not the first opponent to be left shaking his head after playing the Dubliner. "His putting was wonderful," Franco said. "It was impossible. He saved, saved, saved."

Not the least significant putt of Harrington's career had been holed less than two months earlier on the final green in Munich at the conclusion of the Ryder Cup qualifying. As it turned out, Harrington could have missed and still made the trip to Brookline, but he did not know that at the time. That he holed it not only impressed everyone else, but was a vital boost for his own self-confidence.

Harrington, the Irish Amateur champion in 1995, played in three Walker Cup matches and knew something of what to expect in international team competition. After gaining half a point in two foursome matches with Miguel Angel Jimenez, Harrington's Ryder Cup ended with mixed emotions after beating Mark O'Meara in the singles. "I was on a high immediately after my singles match but then it was taken away," Harrington recalled. "I suppose I had about five minutes of pleasure. Then, for about an hour, it was the most unsatisfying moment in golf."

Assuming Darren Clarke, Lee Westwood, Jesper Parnevik and Sergo Garcia will be around for many matches to come, players such as Bjorn, who played at Valderrama but did not make the last team, and Harrington, who made his debut at Brookline, must also become core players not just for The Belfry next September but for the next decade.

"You can't believe how happy you are when a Ryder Cup is over and there isn't one the following year," the 29-year-old said. "But I am already thinking about my schedule for next year to be fresh enough for the next match. I don't think any person in their right mind could actually enjoy the Ryder Cup when they're playing it. The enjoyment comes later, after a match and maybe, on occasions, after a particular shot. There is more pressure at a Ryder Cup, even on the practice days, than at any other tournament.

"But if any tournament has given me extra confidence, it was the Ryder Cup. I'd played in three Walker Cups and had a mix of experiences. I was judging myself against that and I regard it that I passed."

Like the certified accountant he is, Harrington has methodically advanced his career. After two years as a pro, he took stock, decided to work with Bob Torrance on his swing and start a strict exercise regime. He has risen to 32nd in the world and was fifth at the US Open, since when he has been bothered by a neck injury.

The only thing that is lacking is a consistent run of victories. He was second seven times, losing a play-off to Roger Chapman in Rio de Janeiro the week before claiming his second tour title in São Paulo. Last week in Belgium, he led a third-round lead slip to Westwood but his most important win should have come in the B&H International in May.

Harrington led by five strokes with a round to play but was disqualified when it was discovered he had not signed his first-round scorecard. Few have reacted to such a blow quite so magnanimously. "I don't have any regrets about the week at all," he said "That's the nice thing. It felt like a big deal at the time but it is not something I really think about now, except when I am asked about it. Nor do I look back and think, 'Yes, I handled that well'. For me it was the only response I could give."

* New Zealand's Michael Campbell fired a second straight seven-under-par 65 yesterday to lead by one stroke heading into today's final round of the Linde German Masters. Campbell, who collected his first two European tour titles earlier in the season, finished 19 under par to lead Argentina's Jose Coceres by one shot. Coceres sunk six birdies in seven holes on the back nine in his round of 65.

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