DORAL, Fla. (AP) — Padraig Harrington’s game slipped so badly last year that he failed to keep full status on the PGA Tour for the first time. He wrote letters to tournaments asking for a sponsor’s exemption and received one from every tournament but the CIMB Classic in Malaysia.
Some of the tournaments responded within an hour of his request. It was easy to see why, and not just because he’s a three-time major champion.
The Honda Classic was the fifth straight tournament Harrington played, and he wound up winning in a playoff for his first PGA Tour victory since the 2008 PGA Championship. The immediate perk is a spot in the Masters through 2017.
And he’s about to be very busy.
He has received exemptions to the Valspar Championship, Arnold Palmer Invitational, Valero Texas Open and Shell Houston Open. That’s followed by the Masters, and it might be prudent for Harrington to return one of the exemptions so he’s not worn out before Augusta National. That won’t be happening.
“I’ve got four invites the next four weeks, and I’m committed,” he said. “One thing about getting an invite. I said, ‘If you give me an invite, I’ll be there.’ While it’s terrible preparation for the Masters to play four, I took the invite to Tampa, Bay Hill, San Antonio and Houston. And I will honor those invites because I got them. And I do appreciate them. … It doesn’t change it now because I’m busy. I owe a few people favors.”
His solution was to play the tournament and perhaps do less in the days leading up to the events. Except for one thing. Sponsor exemptions typically are asked to fill in on Monday pro-ams, or perhaps attending a sponsor party, sometimes both. Harrington now will be a draw for the Wednesday pro-am.
“I’ll be taking most Tuesdays off,” he said.
Harrington said he played 35 times last year — 32 were official world ranking events — and he wouldn’t be surprised if he played that many or more this year because of his commitments and tournaments for which he now is eligible, such as two World Golf Championships, the Masters and The Players Championship. He also plays in Europe to keep his membership. One tournament he didn’t get in was the Cadillac Championship at Doral.
And he was relieved.
“I couldn’t do it,” he said.
Some 20 hours later, he was home in Ireland with a trophy and a much-needed rest.
BUBBA’S BIG SHOT: Bubba Watson is famous for that sand wedge he hooked out of the trees on the 10th hole at Augusta National to win his first Masters. He hammered a drive over the dogleg on the 13th last year when he won another green jacket. He holed a bunker shot at the HSBC Champions to force a playoff that he won.
His best shot? None of the above.
Watson went back some half-dozen years ago to Bay Hill when he hit a shot that no one remembers, though it does sound vaguely familiar.
He said he tried to clear the bunker on the 16th hole and hooked it into the trees, with rough and leaves all around.
“Had a tree in front of me,” he said. “Had roughly 202 (yards) to carry, 210 (to the) hole over that little creek. And I said, ‘I’m going to hit a low 6-iron.'”
The plan was to hit it low, feeling it would carry that far. His caddie was skeptical and finally stepped out of the way.
“That was probably the best shot,” Watson said. “It probably got 10 feet off the ground at the most. Hit a low 6-iron out of the thick rough, punched it, just kept it under the tree, hit it to about 15 feet.”
Why does it sound familiar?
Another lefty, Phil Mickelson, was in that area in 2002. He was trailing Tiger Woods by one shot and felt his best option was a thin 4-iron under the branches and over the water. He didn’t quite pull it off and wound up finishing with three straight bogeys.
WHO’S NO. 2: The top 50 players in the world are at the Cadillac Championship, making this the first time all top 50 are in the same tournament since the 2012 PGA Championship at Kiawah Island. The ranking points are high and it could shake things up.
It won’t change anything at the top, of course. Rory McIlroy has a stronghold on No. 1.
However, the next seven players — Bubba Watson, Henrik Stenson, Jason Day, Adam Scott, Jim Furyk, Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose — all have a mathematical chance to be No. 2 if they were to win at Doral.
All of them have reached No. 2 or higher at some point in their careers except for Day and Rose.
THE BLACK DOTS: Those black marks seen on Padraig Harrington’s golf ball at the Honda Classic are there for a reason. He likes to have a mark on which to focus during his swing, and the black dots provide that. Because he can’t move the ball except on the tee and putting green, the additional dots ensure that Harrington can see at least one of them (except for lift, clean and place).
This was not new.
A year ago, caddie Ronan Flood sat by his bag on the range at PGA National and marked each ball with the black dots. Harrington is known for peculiar drills, so the explanation wasn’t all that surprising.
About that time, Harrington walked onto the range. When asked what his caddie was doing, Harrington smiled and said, “That Ronan. He’s obsessive compulsive, isn’t he?”
DIVOTS: The American Society of Golf Course Architects said that Jay Moorish died Monday at age 78. Moorish was a past president who worked on golf course design with Jack Nicklaus and more famously with Tom Weiskopf. The 12-year partnership with Weiskopf included designing Loch Lomond. … Both years Bubba Watson has won the Masters, he was runner-up at Doral. So maybe it wouldn’t be a bad thing to finish second this week? “Two different styles of golf courses. You can’t even compare them,” Watson said. “I don’t think about it. It’s just one of those weird things that it just happened that way.” … The Golf Club of Tennessee has been selected to host for the 2018 U.S. Women’s Amateur. … The BMW PGA Championship, the flagship event on the European Tour, is raising its purse to 5 million euros ($5.6 million).
STAT OF THE WEEK: The last two winners on the PGA Tour, James Hahn and Padraig Harrington, both were at No. 297 in the world. Both finished at 6-under par, and both won in a playoff.
FINAL WORD: “Winning is so much better than anything else. I’d rather win in Indonesia than finish second anywhere else.” — Padraig Harrington.
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