- Bob Harig, Senior Golf Writer
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AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The wait has been, at times, too long yet not long enough. Seven months have passed since Padraig Harrington navigated the back nine of his second straight major championship in 32 strokes and walked away the winner.
That day in suburban Detroit, the Irishman talked about relishing the back nine of a major on a Sunday and about how he didn't know what he would do with all the idle time before his next opportunity.
That opportunity is almost here, and you get the sense that although Harrington, 37, couldn't wait, he now wishes he had more time to prepare.
That is simply the nature of the three-time major winner from Dublin, who admits fear is his motivator and doubt is never much farther away than the next azalea at Augusta National.
Which brings us to this week's pursuit of the Paddy Slam and the possibility of a third straight major championship -- something only Ben Hogan and Tiger Woods have accomplished in the modern era.
"It's great to be asked, and it's great to be talked about," Harrington said. "It's like, before I won my first major, people would ask, 'Oh, you're one of the best players not to have won a major,' and I would always take that as a positive, that it's nice to be included in that category. And again, it's nice to be included in a category that I can possibly win three majors in a row.
"I personally know, yes, it would be a nice bonus to win three majors in a row. But does it make much difference whether I win this one or win in a year's time or two years' time? No, I'm quite patient. I'll wait for two years' time. It doesn't have to happen this time around. I'm not going to get drawn into this, that if I go to the Masters and I don't win that there's a failure in that, that it takes away in any way from the last two majors."
Harrington has won three of the past six major championships -- which is more than even Woods can say -- but those are his only tournament titles during that period.
This year has been a bit of a struggle, as Harrington admittedly has put an emphasis on peaking at the Masters, where he tied for fifth last year and for seventh in 2007. Trouble is, he has had difficulty finding his form after a tie for fifth in January at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship on the European Tour.
In seven PGA Tour events this year, Harrington's best finish is a tie for 11th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He also has missed two cuts and was bounced after one round of the Accenture Match Play.
Feeling out of form, Harrington added the CA Championship at Doral to his itinerary because he wanted the competition.
Not to worry, said his longtime coach, Bob Torrance.
"If he gets his mind right, he can win anything," said Torrance, who has seen Harrington develop from a poor ball striker into a player who loves the heat of a major championship.
"I go by what Mr. Hogan said: 'You never say you've got it, because you never get it.' Many must always strive for perfection, but you'll never reach it," said Torrance, who lives and teaches in Scotland. "Padraig's the most dedicated, hardest worker I've ever worked with. I've said all my life, if I had a man who was working 10 hours a day, I'll be glad to stand beside [him]. I got my wish."
Harrington's dedication has paid off in victories. His reputation used to be that of a player who couldn't finish the job. From the time he turned pro in 1995 through 1999, Harrington had just one victory on the European Tour, while finishing second seven times and third two more.
Through 2005, Harrington racked up another 14 runner-up finishes while winning eight times in Europe. He added two victories on the PGA Tour and three more seconds.
Harrington's standing improved when he defeated Sergio Garcia in a playoff to become the first Irishman in 60 years to win the Open Championship, in 2007 at Carnoustie. He repeated the title and added the PGA Championship last year, making him the first European since 1930 to win the year's final major.
"It's just confidence," said Woods, who has won two of the past six majors and 14 overall. "Once you get it done once, it's amazing what that does for you. If you look at Paddy's career, all around the world, how many times did he finish second? But once he learned how to win, how many times has he won since? And once he won a major, he won two last year.
"It just shows you that you can do it. The way he's done it, I think that's … the way he came back after making a mistake there at Carnoustie, his two back nines last year, I believe it was 32 on both of them. To do that on the back nine on Sunday of a major championship, that's awfully impressive. I think that's just his confidence. You know he works hard. There's no doubt he's one of the hardest workers that we have in the game of golf. It's just a matter of proving to yourself that once you do it once, it becomes a little bit easier to do it again."
Harrington would be unlikely to find it easy. He often talks about seeing the water hazards and not the fairway, fretting that his game will leave him. Hence, his frequent chats with sports psychologist Bob Rotella.
But he has been aided by all the other story lines coming into the Masters: Woods' return from knee surgery, Phil Mickelson's two victories this year, Greg Norman's first Masters since 2002, Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy's first Masters appearance.
"I couldn't have asked for more," Harrington said. "Tiger is back playing, Phil is obviously playing great golf and winning and potentially getting to No. 1. You've got Rory McIlroy taking a lot of the attention at home in Ireland, which is great, and in Britain, as well. You've got two-time major winner Retief Goosen back in form. You've got Greg Norman sentimentally coming back. So all of this is helping take a little bit of the attention away from me and distracting a bit, which is good. It means that I can get back to doing my thing and get back to a little bit of normality in my preparation.
"It is nice that we can talk about it, but as I said, if you had told me I was going to miss the cut in the Masters [this year] and win it next year, I'd be very happy with that. So it doesn't have to happen this time around, even though it is a nice thing to talk about."
Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.
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