Underdogs sense Woods' weakness at Sawgrass
The absence of star rivals Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson does not mean Tiger Woods cannot be beaten at the US Players Championship, if you follow the logic of Padraig Harrington. Tiger appears to be on another of his runs where he wins at will and, for a man who tends to repeat at venues where he gets the sniff of success, a lone victory at Sawgrass may be soon improved upon.
The world No 1 can always run away with an event, as he did at Bay Hill last week, but with danger lurking everywhere on Pete Dye's famous Stadium course, especially with water on the last three holes, it may be more difficult here. And Harrington reckons that gives hope to more people than might be expected.
"Tiger is more likely to be beaten by a non-star than a star," Harrington said. "For players who have spent most of their careers as a star it can be difficult to adjust to being dominated. But for those who have never been a star, every time they tee up there is someone they are trying to beat. If you are always the underdog you get more practice in that situation.
"Rich Beem winning the USPGA last year was the classic example. He was fighting his own battles. It didn't matter whose score it was he was trying to beat, he was just trying to go one lower. It would have been the same had it been Ernie or Phil Mickelson. I'm not saying Tiger isn't intimidating, but he's only as intimidating as the other guys." Harrington had experience of beating Woods at the world No 1's own tournament, the Target World Challenge last December. "It made it special in other people's eyes, and for the media, that I had beaten Tiger, and I'm not saying that wasn't nice, but it was just winning the tournament that gave me most satisfaction.
"I went out with a gameplan and I stuck to that gameplan. But, of course, I won out against the best player in the world and that has to help me in the future." Harrington has made a slow start to the season but last week spent two days working with his coach, Bob Torrance. "It took two minutes to work out what was wrong with my swing and two days to work on it," he said. Harrington regards the course as a fair test and enjoys the challenge but in his two previous appearances here has yet to break 70.
Few of the leading Europeans have not so far found their stride. Sergio Garcia has missed his last three cuts and gone out in the first round of the World Matchplay. Colin Montgomerie made his first cut of the season last week at Bay Hill. This is Monty's sixth week in the States and though he thought about cutting his losses and heading home, he feels he is finally getting to grips with his new clubs.
Justin Rose and Luke Donald are two young Englishmen making their debuts here this week. Donald has played three full practice rounds and hit several shots at the 17th, the par-three with an island green.
"It has an aura about it," Donald said. "It's one of the most famous holes in golf and even though it's only an eight or a nine-iron, it's going to be a lot tougher shot when the crowds are there. There's already a buzz around it in the practice rounds."
France's Thomas Levet, a runner-up to Els at the Open last July, will again have extra security officers with him this week following an incident of drunken abuse at Doral three weeks ago. "The only incident was on the Saturday afternoon there," Levet said. "Otherwise I have been made welcome. I am not here to talk about politics. I'm here to do my job, play golf. I'm not the president of France and never will be."
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