Padraig Harrington has been flying under the radar as a Masters contender this week, but as a media interview, he is without peer.
While most of his fellow Tour players would rather talk about health-care reform than Tiger Woods, Harrington has always been candid when asked about Woods, especially during the recent scandals. Harrington's Masters press conference on Tuesday was no exception.
One of the more interesting comments Woods made Monday was that he was going to show more respect for the game and not get "as hot" when he plays. (After a poor drive, Woods has been known to drop more f-bombs than Eminem slamming his hand in the car door.) However, Woods said that dialing back his emotions would also mean being less exuberant when he wins. Asked whether changing his on-course demeanor could affect Woods's golf, Harrington said he'd already noticed a lot of changes in Woods in recent years.
"You can never tell what's going on in somebody's head, but in Tiger's case, he had changed in the last couple of years and was definitely tougher on himself on the golf course, was getting angrier on the golf course," Harrington said. "That wasn't who he was, you know, maybe six, seven years ago. So I think he's going back to where he was, rather than the other way around."
"If you had all that going on in your life outside of the golf course, you're going to bring an awful lot of baggage onto the course," Harrington said. "You have to think that he'll be much more at peace on the golf course and not as frustrated and not getting angry out there."
Woods already does look like a different player out there. On Tuesday morning, he played another practice round with Mark O'Meara. On the par-5 13th, Woods hit his drive into the pine needles on the right side of the fairway. His second shot was a laser to about 15 feet. The crowd broke into the amazed applause (a "no way" pause followed by a lusty cheer) that accompanies an extraordinary shot. Totally ordinary for Woods. As Woods walked down the fairway to the green, the gallery was silent. Then a man called out, "Glad to have you back, Tiger!" Woods stopped and gave the man an ordinary nod and wave. Totally extraordinary for Woods.
Harrington said that Woods could win this tournament, but he sounded like he thought the week could be difficult for him.
"In a year's time, I would be greatly surprised if he wasn't contending," Harrington said. "At the moment, I wouldn't be surprised if he was contending but I just don't know. No matter how he looks or what he comes up and says, you don't know fully how this is affecting him inside and how it's affecting his golf. People react differently."
"I would not be surprised if he played better golf than ever, but there's obviously a doubt to that and we will only be able to find that out on Sunday evening," Harrington said.
Asked how he felt about the prospect of playing with Woods, Harrington said that a Woods pairing is never easy because it can add stress and take away from your focus. (Harrington was paired with Stewart Cink and Charl Schwartzel for the first two rounds.) But the Masters is the easiest major to play with Woods because "it's like your own little world when you're out there in between the ropes."
"It always makes it harder to get a big draw, but then again, you have to accept that if you're going to get up there and want to be contending and getting your name out there, you're going to have to get those draws and deal with it," Harrington said. "I'm sure some guy playing with me in the Irish PGA feels the same way."