He is gearing up for Act 3 of the "Paddy Slam," but Padraig Harrington, winner of the last two major championships, has much work to do before he gets to the Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament.
The indefatigable Irishman makes his first appearance at the Bay Hill Club & Lodge since 2000 as he readies for the year's first major, and although he is making just his third start in the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard, Harrington appreciates the task at hand for himself and 119 other players starting Thursday on the Champions Course.
"Obviously this is one of the tough courses on the PGA Tour, one of the toughest," Harrington, the reigning British Open and PGA champion, said of the 7,162-yard, par-70 layout designed by Palmer. "I'll be interested to see how my game matdches up to it compared to when I did play it back in '98 and 2000, and I obviously found it very difficult back then. So I know it's still a tough golf course, but hopefully I'lll be a little bit better equipped to handle it."
In his two previous appearances at Bay Hill, Harrington tied for 50th in 1998 and missed the cut in 2000.
Harrington, 37, certainly is a much more accomplished player today, having won consecutive British Open championships and three of the last six majors. He comes to Bay Hill making his sixth start of the year in America. A tie for 20th two weeks ago in the CA Championship at Doral was his best finish thus far, and after a week at home in Ireland, the real labor begins with the Masters on the horizon.
Naturally, there’s more scrutiny now on the talented Irishman, who seeks to become just the third man in golf’s modern era to win three majors in a row, joining Ben Hogan and Tiger Woods, who is the defending champion of this week’s 31st edition of the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
He doesn’t think about the “Paddy Slam” until he is asked about it. But he gets asked about quite often.
“It’s great to be asked and it’s great to be talked about,” said Harrington, ranked No. 5 in the Official World Golf Ranking. “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.”
First, though, comes an exacting examination here at Bay Hill. Harrington has an agenda of improving his driving accuracy – a must on the tight, rough-lined fairways – and further refining a new putting routine. Winning is high on the list, too, but just improving on his season to date, which includes just two top-25 finishes, would be a step forward.
“I need to keep working on things,” Harrington said. “I’ve got an idea of some practice drills and routines for my driving that would bring about better driving, and that’s what I’m going to look at this week, and hopefully that improves this week going forward. I’m going to be comfortable with my game going into next week, and then hopefully again into the Masters.”
Harrington said a few weeks ago that he was excited to be coming back to Bay Hill. “I like the tournament, but it hasn’t worked out in my schedule, but this year it did, and I’m glad,” he said.
One big reason he’s enjoying the return is to get reacquainted with the tournament host. He hasn’t spent a lot of time with Palmer, but Harrington knows there is no name bigger in the game of golf.
“I was in an Italian restaurant at Doral, and a friend of mine came over, we were actually sitting at the bar having something quick to eat,” Harrington said. “A guy came up to the bar, and he ordered an Arnold Palmer and the bar man knew what that drink was. Think about it, you don’t go up there and order a Tiger Woods at the bar. That’s in a league of your own.
“It’s Arnold Palmer and James Bond. That’s about the two I know that have got drinks. That just shows how big a name Arnold Palmer is, isn’t it? Obviously when that happened and then obviously coming here, he really has nobody has taken golf to the level he has.”