Padraig Harrington tied for third last week at Doral.
David Walberg/SI
Thursday, January 05, 2012

Among the lessons we can take from 2010 so far is that nothing is a sure thing, not even the mastery we've come to expect from the game's superpowers.

Tiger Woods was untouchable only four months ago, while Phil Mickelson was on the verge of a monster 2010 season that would revitalize his career.

And then they weren't.

Take the case of Padraig Harrington, who like Retief Goosen in 2009 will try to jump-start his career with a win at the Transitions Championship at Innisbrook this week.

When he won the 2008 PGA Championship, his second major championship title in a row and third in his last six starts, he ascended to a career-high third in the World Ranking. Harrington looked so formidable in taking down Sergio Garcia at Oakland Hills that he was mentioned with increasing frequency as a worthy foe for Woods.

What happened? Oh, not much. He was winless in 2009 and struggled as he tried to implement a swing change. But things may be turning around for Harrington, who moved back into the top 10 in the ranking with a T3 at Doral last week. He's scheduled to spend St. Patrick's Day with President Barack Obama at the White House today, before flying back to Tampa, Fla., for the start of the Transitions.

"I won't say it's perfectly convenient," Harrington said last week, "but it's worked out obviously as I'm in the States. I can fly up and come back in the same day and meet the President. It's very nice."

The problem is, only two years ago Harrington looked to have left "nice" in favor of "epic," as far as modifiers for his career are concerned. Winning two British Opens and a PGA in 13 months isn't "nice." It's historic. But then came 2009, the highlight and lowlight both coming in his final-round battle with Woods at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio, where Harrington held a one-stroke lead until taking a shocking triple-bogey 8 on the 16th hole at Firestone.

Now he says he finally got to the bottom of the glitch in his swing that vexed him so in '09, when he set out to try to fix what wasn't broken. Irish golf fans and fans in general hope so. Like Ernie Els at Doral last weekend, Harrington could use a W to remind him and everyone else of the natural order of things.

Players like Els (who went from 20th to eighth in the world with his victory at the CA Championship), Harrington, Mickelson and Woods seem to belong in the top 10. Given as much, Els's four-stroke win at the TPC Blue Monster made more sense than almost anything else that has happened thus far in golf in 2010.

Speaking of Els, Rory Sabbatini will be among the players at the Transitions who will be coming from Monday's Ernie Els for Autism Pro-Am at PGA National.

In addition to attracting Tour stars past (Ray Floyd, Jack Nicklaus) and present (Els, Robert Allenby, Stuart Appleby, Justin Leonard, Steve Stricker), the charity event featured Rush Limbaugh, who took the day off from his syndicated radio show.

Among other players to keep an eye on at the Transitions, Rickie Fowler tries to prove he's more than an Arizona desert phenomenon; Bill Haas looks to maintain his momentum after a T6 at Doral; newly minted high school graduate Ryo Ishikawa begins to build for Augusta; and Stricker attempts to atone for a bogey-bogey finish (T4) last year.

Others in the field include Geoff Ogilvy, Ian Poulter and Adam Scott, plus David Duval and yes, John Daly. It was in Tampa, at the 2008 Pods Championship, that Daly chose to have then-Buccaneers Coach Jon Gruden caddie for him after a rain-delay.

• In other action this week, the Trophee Hassan II, a pro-am played since 1971, joins the European Tour for the first time.

The tournament at Royal Golf Dar Es Salam in Rabat, Morocco, will feature Erik Compton, the two-time heart-transplant recipient who won the '05 Trophee Hassan; Paul McGinley, coming off his sixth operation on his left knee; and Francesco Molinari, who tied for 14th place at Doral last weekend.

The LPGA, Nationwide and Champions tours are dark, although Champions tour fixture Tom Lehman will be in action at the Transitions. He contended for the title last year but struggled to a final-round 75 and tied for eighth.

 

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