Slip might work to Harrington's advantage

Martin Rogers

CHASKA, Minn. – Padraig Harrington's most important shot of the PGA Championship might turn out to be one of his worst, a careless chip from the greenside rough on 18 that resulted in his only bogey of the third round.

Harrington's dropped shot to close out an otherwise impeccable 3-under round of 69 Saturday means he heads into the final day of his title defense partnering with Henrik Stenson instead of Tiger Woods.

And while Harrington is too much of a competitor to ever shy away from the ultimate challenge in golf – pairing with Woods in the last round of a major – avoiding a Sunday showdown with the red-shirted one could just be the best outcome for him.

Harrington's Irish lilt and affable personality belie the warrior spirit that lies within, one which has reared itself on the three occasions he has lifted major trophies.

The man from the Emerald Isle reacts to playing with Woods in a different way to most. Whereas even some of the finest players in the game have been daunted, distracted and overawed at the prospect of partnering the world No. 1 down the stretch, Harrington greets it with excitement.

"I think I would rather [play with Tiger]," Harrington said. "I think it would suit me better to have that sort of match-play style. I think I will get into it and hopefully raise my game.

"I'm not going to be playing with him so I have to stick to my own game and see what happens there. I'm going to have to do my own thing."

Harrington enjoys the challenge of squaring off with Woods, but it can be argued that he likes it a little too much for his own good. He doesn't get gripped by tension in that situation, but rather tends to overplay his game, focusing more on the battle of wills with his friend Woods than the simple game which has served him so well.

Doing his own thing is what Harrington does best and he did it to great effect Saturday. After a solid start he caught fire around the turn, closing the gap on Woods and briefly sharing the lead with him.

Plodding around with metronomic consistency is the blueprint that works best for Harrington, not get locked in a shootout – however much he enjoys it.

He likes the big galleries associated with Woods' presence but could just find the ideal scenario alongside the quiet Stenson on Sunday, allowing South Korea's Y.E. Yang to be caught up in the Tiger slipstream.

"I get the impression that a lot of people are cheering me on, wanting me to push him along, but still wanting Tiger to win," Harrington said. "They will support the underdog until he catches up and then support Tiger again.

"Everybody wants to see a battle but ultimately they want the hero to win. They want him to be pushed and tested and to show his skills. I am happy to fill that role and you never know what happens over the last nine holes."

The last nine holes is where Harrington has proven himself on three memorable occasions. His first British Open triumph in 2007 came after an electrifying slugfest with Sergio Garcia. Twelve months later, Harrington stormed home at Royal Birkdale, crushing the Greg Norman fairy tale to lift a second claret jug.

And a year ago here, it was Harrington's nerve that held firm while Garcia's faltered.

Those experiences will stand him in good stead Sunday, but the task to overhaul Woods is still a mighty one.

Woods' perfect record when leading after 54 holes of a major is one of golf's most oft-quoted statistics and it is unlikely he will have a second consecutive patchy round.

A week ago Harrington stood shoulder to shoulder with Woods for most the of the final of the WGC Bridgestone Invitational, coming close to pulling off an impressive victory before a late stutter cost him dearly.

This time he will be out of the spotlight. Not how he likes it perhaps, but how it can benefit him most.