If anyone in Europe is hoping to see the same old uncomfortable Tiger Woods turning up at the Ryder Cup in two weeks' time then Padraig Harrington says they will be very disappointed. The Irishman is convinced Woods' troubles will at last result in the world No 1 becoming a team player.
"In previous Ryder Cups, Tiger has struggled with the structure of the event," said Harrington yesterday. "Playing a practice round at 11am, I don't think he's ever done that in his life. Normally he's out at 6am and off the course by 11am. There are a lot of things at a Ryder Cup that don't fit into Tiger's normal schedule. But having got a pick this year he might feel a bit like me and turn round and say, 'What do you need me to do?' Being picked you are not as much focused on yourself, as on the team."
These were courageous comments. Woods' discomfort in the biennial dust-up is one of the elephants in the locker room and very few of his colleagues are prepared to tackle the issue. Perhaps Harrington feels able to because he finds himself in a similar position as a multiple major-winner who did not qualify by right.
"The Ryder Cup could be the pinnacle of his year, like it could be for me," said Harrington, one of the by now infamous "FedEx Four" who skipped the last qualifying event in Europe to play in the States. "Tiger is coming in not having achieved a lot of his goals this year. He is probably thinking, 'I want to play well to make this a special year'. He will be in a fighting mood. Two years ago I was burned out coming into the Ryder, but I'm not going to be like that this time. And Tiger is not going to be like that either."
Harrington's belief is at odds with that of Woods who has maintained that as he tried his damnedest in every Ryder Cup he couldn't possibly put any more into the US cause. Whether Harrington is simply just more honest or not, he is inclined to disagree.
"Two years ago I was like, 'Do I have to turn up on the Monday, that's very early'," he admitted. "I was tired and wanting to do my own thing. Like I said, everything is very structured in the week and you don't get your own time to practise. I heard that from other players and it was an issue the US team had for a long while. But you don't feel like that when you're a captain's pick. You're like, 'Great it's Monday, what can I do?' You feel you've got to give a bit more back."
While it is still difficult to imagine Woods being quite so keen, with Harrington that scenario seems rather more believable. The 39-year-old has long made a point of avoiding reading anything in the newspapers so claims not to be aware of all the criticism which greeted his selection over the world No 7, Paul Casey. Yet Harrington does know he has a point to prove as he attempts not only to leave behind two years without an individual title but also two Ryder Cups without a single match win.
"I definitely feel under more pressure," said Harrington. "I was flat last time, but it's the opposite this year. I'm hoping to be at my peak. It's all about the Ryder Cup for me."
Like Woods, Harrington did not qualify for next week's Tour Championship in Atlanta, but unlike Woods he has not merely retreated to the range to find his game. After a few sessions this week with his coach, Bob Torrance, Harrington now heads to next week's Vivendi Cup in Paris as he tries to hone his sharpness.
There he will see his captain, Colin Montgomerie, and the Scot may not thank him for heaping yet more pressure at his door. "I think the match is going to be close," said Harrington. "The teams are so well balanced that the captains' decisions are going to be vital for the winning team. That's what is going to separate them."
* Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell is sitting pretty one shot behind Englishman John Parry after the second round of the Austrian Open. The US Open champion birdied four of his first five holes to continue a rich vein of form in his last tournament before the Ryder Cup. The 31-year-old then shot par on the last nine to leave him seven under par, in a three-way tie for second. "It's very much the old cliché of a game of two halves at this course," McDowell said.