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Inside the Ropes: Harrington on verge of missing playoffs

The SportsXchange

Only five years ago, Padraig Harrington was on top of the world, having won three major championships in a span of 13 months.

This week he is on the bubble in the FedEx Cup standings, sitting at No. 129 heading into the Wyndham Championship, with only the top 125 making it into the first round of the PGA Tour playoffs at the Barclays next week.

"Obviously I'm aware of where I am, but trying not to get stressed out by it," said Harrington, who didn't make it into the 74-man field of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and had fallen to No. 77 in the World Golf Rankings as of last week.

"I am playing (in the Wyndham) so as to boost my FedEx Cup standing. I am currently close to the cut-off for the Barclays, the first playoff event, so I need to get up the rankings a bit."

Harrington captured the 2007 Open Championship at Carnoustie and repeated the following year at Royal Birkdale, following that up by claiming the PGA Championship at Oakland Hills. He is the last player to win back-to-back majors.

With Tiger Woods on the sideline because of knee surgery following his victory the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, Harrington was considered the best active player on the planet even though he was at No. 3 in the World Golf Rankings.

Harrington has always been one to tinker with his game, and even though he reached the upper stratosphere in the game, he continued to make changes with instructor Bob Torrance after his brilliant 2008 season.

The 41-year-old Irishman, who has 18 victories in his pro career, hasn't been the same since.

His only victories since came in the 2009 Irish PGA Championship, his third title in a row in the tournament and sixth overall, the 2010 Iskandar Johor Open on the Asian Tour and the 2012 Grand Slam of Golf.

And yet, he continues to tinker. He dumped Torrance after 15 years because the man who turned Harrington from an amateur who hit the ball short and crooked into a major champion felt it was time to stop making changes at the age of 40.

Harrington has turned to instructor Pete Cowen. He has had laser surgery on his eyes four times in addition to deciding that he needed glasses even though he has 20-20 vision, and he has started using the belly putter.

He also switched from Bob Rotella to Dave Alred for work on his mental game.

The results have not been impressive, as Harrington has finished in the top 10 in PGA Tour events only three times in each of the past three seasons. The closest he came to winning on the circuit in the past five years was a tie for second in the 2009 Barclays.

However, Harrington remains optimistic.

"I know that my game is in good shape and that it is only a matter of being patient," said Harrington, whose best finish on the PGA Tour this year was a tie for ninth in the Waste Management Phoenix Open, his first event of the season.

"I'm hitting the ball well, physically, but just not making enough birdies. I'll hit it pretty close and the not make the putt, or hit a good shot but it's not the right yardage.

"I need to make a few more, just for momentum. Make a birdie you feel good going to the next tee. I'm just not in that kind of a run right now, and I have to turn it around."

It's certainly not about effort, because Harrington practices and plays harder than almost anybody in golf.

In fact, he has a chronic neck problem that doctors believe has been caused by too much time on the practice range over the course of his career. Like the tinkering, though, the practice routine is something that's not going to change.

"I've figured out that I'm pressing a little too much," said Harrington, in what probably is a classic understatement. "I'm hitting the ball well but maybe trying a little too hard. It's difficult for me not to try too hard, not to care. It's difficult to find that balance and not put myself under too much stress.

"Obviously it's frustrating at the moment with my game, no doubt about it. It always is when you're not (playing well). That's the nature of this game. So just got to keep going with it and wait for it to turn. And that will happen."

For his 2013 season on the PGA Tour, it has to happen this week, or it's wait until next year.
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