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Monday, March 9, 2009
Updated: March 11, 9:43 AM ET
After early-season struggles, Harrington focuses on more course work at Doral

By Bob Harig
ESPN.com

DORAL, Fla. -- The road to the Paddy Slam took an unexpected turn.

From Tucson, Ariz., to Dublin to Miami is not the route Padraig Harrington intended to take on his way to Augusta, Ga., and his attempt to win a third straight major championship next month at the Masters.

Padraig Harrington

Jeff Gross/Getty Images

In four starts on the PGA Tour this season, the best finish Padraig Harrington could muster was a tie for 24th at the Buick Invitational.

"And I'm headed back home after this," Harrington said Tuesday at the Doral Golf Resort, where he is playing in this week's CA Championship after initially saying he was going to skip the World Golf Championship event.

"I wasn't going to come here," Harrington said as he hit balls out of one of Doral's practice bunkers. "The three-week break I saw as ideal as far as getting home and doing some work on my game and getting in the gym and doing some development in the gym.

"As it turned out, I probably had over-practiced going into the season and quite wasn't where I should have been at those tournaments. I need to be on the golf course rather than on the practice ground."

Harrington, who won the British Open and the PGA Championship last year and three of the past six major championships, will be the subject of considerable focus at the Masters, where he will attempt to join Tiger Woods (2000 to 2001) as the only players since Ben Hogan in 1953 to win three straight majors.

But the Irishman has been in something of a tailspin since his major triumphs.

He missed the cut at both the Barclays and Deutsche Bank Championship and failed to qualify for the Tour Championship last year. Then in Europe, Harrington ended 2008 with three finishes outside of the top 10.

Harrington began the 2009 season with a tie for fifth at the Abu Dhabi Championship, but it's been a struggle ever since.

He tied for 24th at the Buick Invitational in his PGA Tour debut this season, missed the cut at both Pebble Beach and the Northern Trust Open, then was bounced after just one round by Pat Perez at the Accenture Match Play Championship. Harrington planned to go home for three weeks after that, then return for the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Shell Houston Open and the Masters.

Sobel: CA Championship blog

Jason Sobel Won't be able to watch Tiger's first stroke-play event at the WGC-CA Championship on Thursday? No problem. ESPN.com's Jason Sobel will be there, tracking all the action. Blog

Instead, he squeezed in this trip to South Florida. He'll head back home next week, then return for Palmer's tournament in Orlando later this month.

"Unfortunately this would have been a nice three-week break for the season in terms of staying fresh and getting good work done,'' Harrington said. "But I have to sacrifice later in the season for earlier in the season. I wouldn't have been quite ready. I need to be on the course. Another three weeks on the practice ground wouldn't have been good for my game at all."

Harrington said the weather in Ireland was "good enough to practice, but not good enough to play. You might not have found it so nice."

So he came to Miami, where the temperature is expected to be in the 80s all week -- and where he is assured of four rounds of golf, because this WGC event has no 36-hole cut.

"There's been a lack of competition, a lack of sharpness," he said. "That's why I'm here. I wouldn't be able to find it on the range."

A little help please, Tiger

Almost from the time during his rookie year when he was criticized for withdrawing from a tournament (even though he had a valid reason) at the last minute, Tiger Woods has followed a formula in which he waits almost as long as possible to commit to PGA Tour events.

Tiger Woods

Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire

By waiting until nearly the last minute, Tiger Woods had PGA Tour officials chomping at the bit waiting to hear if the world's No. 1 player would tee it up this week at the CA Championship.

The deadline is typically at 5 p.m. ET on the Friday before tournament week, and last week PGA Tour and CA Championship officials were left to wonder until three hours before the deadline whether the game's No. 1 player would commit to the event this week at Doral. They had every reason to believe Woods would play, but heard nothing official, and with every minute that went by, pulse rates rose while hair fell out.

Getting Woods, of course, is a huge boon to a tournament, in terms of ticket sales, marketing and television. All of that could be enhanced if he gave tournaments more notice that he was coming.

And in tough economic times, that is more important than ever. Tournament directors will tell you that they appreciate it greatly when any top-billed players commit to their events as early as possible. They can put their faces on billboards, promote the field in the media and get more exposure. All of that helps the title sponsor as well as the tournament, which needs to market itself to be viable.

Woods has never missed this tournament, so most people expected him to commit. But given that the Accenture Match Play Championship two weeks ago was his first tournament since knee surgery, there was plenty of room to wonder as the minutes and hours passed with no word from him. Was the knee bothering him? Did he need another week off?

You have to give him the benefit of the doubt, because perhaps he had a compelling reason to wait. But if he didn't -- and in the future if he doesn't -- then Woods ought to let people know if he is coming. A week or two earlier can make a huge difference, and any commitment for any player should come with the caveat that he has a right to change his mind due to extenuating circumstances.

When asked about the current economic climate, Woods said at the Match Play that, "We have to do more as players. Sponsors drive the events."

While PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem has requested that players add tournaments, that is unlikely to happen in Woods' case. His immense fame makes it difficult for him to sign more autographs than he already does or hang around to schmooze with sponsors.

A heads-up that he is playing hardly puts Tiger out at all -- and would sure be appreciated.

A look at this week's venue

Doral has been home to a PGA Tour event since 1962, when Billy Casper won the inaugural Doral CC Open Invitational on a course dubbed the "Blue Monster" that for years was viewed as one of the toughest anywhere. Casper's winning score that year was 5-under-par 283 and players were in fear of the famed par-4 18th.

Time and technology have teamed to make the Blue Monster not nearly as daunting, although several renovations have restored the length and the 450-yard 18th can be brutish depending on the wind. The 7,266-yard course plays to par-72, and depending on conditions, all four par-5s can be reachable in 2 shots.

In 2007, the Doral tournament -- which had been known as the Ford Championship at Doral -- gave way to the World Golf Championships. The American Express Championship, which had moved around the world, became anchored at Doral. Instead of a full-field event, now Doral is home to a WGC for the third straight year.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Birdies and bogeys

Birdies:

1. Y.E. Yang. From 460th in the world last week to in the World Golf Championship event this week. And in the process, he became the second South Korean to win on the PGA Tour.

2. Jiyai Shin. She made it a South Korean double with her victory at the HSBC LPGA event, her "first" official victory. Shin, of course, also won last year's Women's British Open and two other titles, wins that for some reason don't count because she was not an LPGA member.

3. Erik Compton. At one point Friday, the recipient of not one but two heart transplants was tied for third at the Honda Classic. He fell off the leaderboard on the weekend, but remember, this was the first time Compton walked 72 holes since his May transplant surgery -- even though the PGA Tour has allowed him to ride a cart.

Bogeys:

1. Sergio Garcia. A tie for 13th at the Honda doesn't look so good when you see that Garcia led the field in greens in regulation.

2. Mark O'Meara. On the verge of his first Champions Tour victory with nine holes to play at the Toshiba Classic, O'Meara was unable to overtake Eduardo Romero.

3. Barney Frank. Although the Massachusetts congressman backed off somewhat on his comments about golf, he was foolish to make them in the first place without doing his homework.

And just some 1,000 miles to the east ...

The second "opposite" event of the season takes place this week east at the Puerto Rico Open at the Trump International Golf Club. For those not in the 80-player field at Doral, this offers an excellent opportunity. Sure, the money isn't good -- less than half the $8.5 million being offered at Doral -- but a first-place check of $630,000 still spends quite nicely.

Just ask Greg Kraft, who got his first official victory in Puerto Rico last year when he defeated Jerry Kelly and Bo Van Pelt by a stroke in the first-year event.

A field of 144 players can earn FedEx Cup points -- half of what is available at a regular event -- but a victory is just as important as at any other tour event. It comes with a two-year exemption.

Notables

• This is a long shot, but it is possible for Tiger Woods to be overtaken in the Official World Golf Ranking this week. Sergio Garcia would have to win the CA Championship and Woods would have to finish in 27th place or worse.

• The 80 players who qualified for the CA Championship make it the largest field in the tournament's history that dates to 1999.

• Woods and Ernie Els are the only players in the field to have won the CA Championship (formerly the American Express Championship) as well as the former PGA Tour stop at Doral. Els won the tournament in 2002 -- which included a final-day push from Woods. And Woods won it in 2005 and 2006 before capturing the 2007 CA Championship. Els won the American Express tournament in 2004.

• Y.E. Yang's winning score of 9 under par at the Honda Classic was the highest in relation to par this year on the PGA Tour and the highest since last fall's Ginn Sur Mer Classic, where Ryan Palmer was 7 under.

• Yang got into this week's field at Doral by moving into the top 10 in the FedEx Cup standings, as did runner-up John Rollins. Davis Love III barely squeaked into the field after a tie for 13th at Honda helped him to the 50th spot in the Official World Golf Ranking. Love has been hovering in the 50s since the season-opening Mercedes-Benz Championship. If he is there after the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Love will get a Masters invite.

• There are 12 Korean women among the top 32 in the world ranking, but even with his victory on Sunday at the Honda, Y.E. Yang did not crack the top 100. Only K.J. Choi is ranked so high. Why not the same number of successful Korean men as women? Yang said it is due to a two-year military commitment that all Korean men must serve. "It takes you out of the routine," Yang said.

• Robert Allenby tied Tiger Woods for the tour lead with his 30th consecutive cut made. Since there is no cut at the CA Championship, they will each extend their streaks to 31.

• Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy enters the CA Championship after consecutive top-15 finishes -- a tie for fifth at the Accenture Match Play and a tie for 13th at the Honda Classic.

• Rookie Jeff Klauk is off to an impressive start. He has made the cut in all seven events he's played this year, highlighted by a fourth-place finish at Honda. He also tied for 11th at the Buick Invitational. Klauk is 19th in the FedEx Cup standings.

Catching up with last year's champ

Geoff Ogilvy is, in part, off to such a good start this year because of what he accomplished last year at Doral. Ogilvy stopped Tiger Woods' five-tournament PGA Tour winning streak and also held off Retief Goosen, Jim Furyk and Vijay Singh to win the CA Championship. That victory qualified him for the season-opening Mercedes-Benz Championship, which he won wire-to-wire.

Then two weeks ago at the Accenture Match Play Championship, Ogilvy won his third WGC event and second Match Play title, defeating Paul Casey in the 36-hole final. He joined Woods as the only players with three or more WGC titles (Woods has 15), and the Aussie moved to No. 4 in the Official World Golf Ranking.

Quotable

"Up until the last four holes, I had fun. Those last four holes were longer than my entire golfing career."
-- South Korea's Y.E. Yang, 37, who saw a 4-shot lead shrink to 1 over the closing holes at PGA National before winning the Honda Classic.

CA Championship picks

Horse for the Course. Tiger Woods. Doral has been good to Woods. He was runner-up in 2002 to Ernie Els, then rattled off three straight victories starting in 2005 before a fifth-place finish last year.

Birdie Buster. Geoff Ogilvy. The only player with two victories this year on the PGA Tour, Ogilvy is coming off an impressive performance at the Accenture Match Play and is the defending champion at the CA Championship.

Super Sleeper. Alvaro Quiros. The Spaniard is playing in his first World Golf Championship event after a victory in January at the Qatar Masters.

Winner. Robert Allenby. The Aussie contended briefly last week at the Honda Classic and it is hard to believe he has not won on the PGA Tour since 2001.