SAN DIEGO: After hogging the limelight by winning the final two majors of last year, Padraig Harrington is eager to assume a lower profile when Tiger Woods finally returns to competition.
Woods has been sidelined since his astonishing playoff victory at the US Open in June but is widely expected to play at least one event in his comeback from injury before the April 9-12 US Masters.
The American world number one, who defied stabbing knee pain to clinch his 14th major title at Torrey Pines, began hitting full shots midway through December after recovering from reconstructive knee surgery.
“I am looking forward to Tiger coming back and taking some of the spotlight off me,” Harrington said on the eve of the opening round at the Buick Invitational.
“It’s much easier to win any tournament under the radar. It’s a lot harder when somebody asks you on a Monday of a tournament or two months before the event: ‘Are you going to win?’
“A lot of players won’t be asked that question until they’re leading on a Saturday night so they only have to deal with it 24 hours.
“Whereas the week of Augusta, I’ll have lots of people coming up to me saying you’re going to win,” added the Irish world number three, referring to Augusta National, permanent home of the Masters.
“I guess we all know it’s harder to win a tournament when you’re leading tournaments. It’s a different sort of pressure and players play a different sort of way.”
Harrington, who has triumphed in three of the last six major championships, accepts he will be in the harsh glare of the media spotlight when he tees off in the Buick Invitational first round.
“I’ll go out today feeling like the attention is on me as if I was leading the event,” the 37-year-old Dubliner said.
“Normally you can kind of get away with that for three days, three-and-a-half days sometimes. The less stress you put yourself under, the more chance you’re going to be strong on a Sunday afternoon.”
Asked whether he felt Woods would be rusty when he finally returned, Harrington replied: “I actually think he’ll come back better.
“He’s proved over the years he’s a guy that plays much better with rest and he’s very good at coming into tournaments without the competition. I’m sure he’ll play once before the Masters or whatever. He’s very good at playing cold.
“I also believe that, like any player who is forced to take a break from the game, they come back with a greater enthusiasm and love for the game because they’ve missed it,” said the winner of last year’s British Open and PGA Championship. — Reuters