Harrington in Unfamiliar Position


2005 Honda ClassicPALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- Padraig Harrington almost had it easy at last year's Honda Classic.
He'd never won before on the PGA Tour, and barely held afterthought status when entering the final day seven shots back. Then he birdied 10 of his first 13 holes, shot a 9-under-par 63, and got his first triumph when Vijay Singh missed a 2 1/2 -foot putt on the second playoff hole.
So when this year's Honda opens Thursday, Harrington gets his first taste of defending a tour crown.
'There's a lot of expectations with defending,' said Harrington, an Irishman who's been a 26-time runner-up worldwide. 'Definitely, the easiest way to win an event is, without a doubt, to be playing well and to be under the radar.'
That isn't the case this year, since the defending champion is thrust into a starring role entering any tournament. And none of the game's seven top-ranked players -- Tiger Woods, Singh, Phil Mickelson, et al. -- are here either, allowing Harrington to bask in more pre-tournament spotlight.
'The only thing I can do as good as last year is win again this year. ... It's still a nice problem to have,' Harrington said.
Harrington opened his PGA schedule at the Match Play Championship, reaching the quarterfinals, then tied for 26th last week in the Ford Championship at Doral.
Asked about the current state of his game, Harrington grimaced a bit. Still, considering he's a strong wind player -- it always seems to be breezy, at least, at Mirasol's Sunrise course -- and has prevailed here before, he's probably as good a bet as anyone.
'Growing up in Ireland, you learn how to play the wind. Or if you don't, you don't play golf, one or the other,' Harrington said. 'Yeah, I like the conditions here. I'm very comfortable here. I'd be happy to see a bit of wind this week.'
It's Honda's finale at Mirasol; the tournament moves across the street to PGA National next year. There's only four of the world's top 22 players in this field, led by No. 8 David Toms -- who bogeyed the final hole last week at Doral and finished one shot behind Woods.
'The wind will dictate the scores,' Toms said, 'like it always does here.'
The course is a demanding one, with huge, sloping greens that can take even slightly misdirected approach shots and send them rolling 50 feet or more from the flag.
Some have complained about the setup in the past; some, like Geoff Ogilvy -- who tied for sixth here last year -- embrace the challenge.
'I don't think it was everyone's favorite golf course at first but I think it's grown on people,' said Ogilvy, an Australian who won this year's Match Play Championship. 'You have to hit the ball well, you have to chip well and you have to putt well -- and you have to use your brain.'
The sort of wide-open field seen here seems to create opportunities for someone to get a breakthrough win; in three of the last four years, the eventual Honda winner hadn't ever prevailed in a tour event. Matt Kuchar got his first victory in 2002, and Todd Hamilton got his first in 2004.
One of the many hoping this is the first-win week is Camilo Villegas, the Colombian rookie who's already earned $821,571 this year, bolstered by runner-up finishes at the FBR Open and Doral.
'I feel good. I've had two good weeks,' said Villegas, the 24-year-old who played college golf at Florida before turning pro two years ago. 'That's showed me something. But that doesn't make me a top player in the world all of a sudden. I've just got to keep working and keep grinding and keep trying to play good golf.'
Nick Faldo withdrew Wednesday, and alternate Mathias Gronberg replaced him in the field. Faldo had to return to England because a family member is ill. ... Mark Calcavecchia will be playing the Honda for the 21st time. He won the event in 1987 and 1998, and is one of only three players to earn more than $1 million all-time at the event. Singh and Davis Love III, who is here, are the others. ... Jack Nicklaus is the only player to successfully defend a Honda Classic win.
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - The Honda Classic