Wind breaker: Harrington channels old form

By Will GrayFebruary 26, 2015, 10:40 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – The smile was back.

The toothy grin worn to a trio of major titles, the one that Padraig Harrington once took with him during his trip into golf’s stratosphere, was on full display Thursday at the Honda Classic.

With winds whipping across PGA National, Harrington opened with a 3-under 67, his lowest score on the PGA Tour in nearly nine months. A full decade removed from his Honda win across the street at the Country Club of Mirasol, he's two shots off the 18-hole pace.

At age 43, Harrington’s weathered look is that of a man whose career approaches its third decade, but he strode to the podium with the confidence of a player equipped with plenty of experience in blustery conditions.

“On a windy day, momentum is bigger than any other day,” Harrington said.

Harrington had no issue creating momentum in the opening round, countering his lone bogey of the day at No. 2 with a birdie at No. 3. He added three more circles to his scorecard, including a pair of birdies across his final three holes to move onto the first page of the leaderboard. 

Much has changed for the Irishman since his major wins in 2007 and 2008; following last year’s Wyndham Championship, his five-year PGA Tour exemption based on his ’08 victories expired. While he had a one-time career money list exemption at his disposal, Harrington chose to save it, opting instead to patch together a schedule based on sponsor invites and past-champion status.

Thus far, the strategy hasn’t panned out. Harrington has missed the cut in five of eight starts this season and remains in search of his first top-50 finish.

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“I came out starting the year with really high expectations, and I fell right back into struggling,” Harrington said. “I was confident in doing the right things. I just really, really struggled.”

Even the most talented golfers can wander in search of that elusive spark, the moment when things finally click. For Harrington, it came last week during, of all things, a third-round 76 at the Northern Trust Open. His mental approach to shots began to change, and he bounced back with a final-round 71 at Riviera.

The confidence from his West Coast epiphany has carried over into this week, although Harrington also cited another source of inspiration – a recent “summons” to dinner from mental coach Bob Rotella, with whom Harrington has worked for most of his career.

“I think we’ve had the intervention before,” Harrington said. “He’s like the school teacher. He tells you, and it’s up to you to do your homework and do it right.”

The two met Tuesday night at a restaurant near PGA National, their first chance to connect in person since the end of 2014. Rotella wanted an opportunity to chat openly with his longtime pupil without the distractions that a more-populated setting might create.

“I said, 'Let’s go to dinner together,'” Rotella said. “I just wanted a chance to get together and really spend a bunch of time.”

The issue, according to Rotella, has been convincing Harrington to embrace the notion that added practice does not necessarily mean better results – that less, sometimes, can be more.

“He’s been taking so much time off. I mean, we’ve been trying to get him to forever,” Rotella said. “Someone finally documented for him that when he’s more rested, he has more club head speed, so he liked that. Wouldn’t do it for the sake of doing it.”

Harrington has always been seen as a player who tinkers with his game, making changes that led to three major titles in the span of 13 months but also changes that have contributed to his subsequent decline. He won on the Asian Tour in December to end a four-year worldwide winless drought, but his last PGA Tour title remains the 2008 PGA Championship. He teed off this week at No. 297 in the world rankings.

Having successfully battled the crosswinds on the Champion Course for 18 holes, Harrington hopes to build upon his opening round as he seeks his first top-10 finish on Tour in nearly two years.

“When I wasn’t playing great, I kept walking off the golf course feeling like I played 70 shots and signed for 73 shots,” he said. “Today, I feel like I played in 70 but signed for 67, so that’s a nice place to be.”

Rotella noted that when Harrington is at his best, he plays the game devoid of mid-round swing keys and mental cues.

“He doesn’t think about any technical stuff on the golf course. He really plays golf,” Rotella said. “Playing golf is just seeing the shot and hitting it, not judging. Just go get it and hit it again until you run out of holes.”

On a day when many of the game’s best were humbled by difficult conditions, Harrington displayed the poise and control of a savvy veteran. Rotella remains optimistic that his pupil’s world ranking will soon be a more accurate reflection of his ability.

“The good news with him is that we’ve seen it before,” he said. “Now it’s a question of if he can sustain it.”

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.