Pebble Beach Ready for Its Close-Up

Harrington trying to return to the elite

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    PEBBLE BEACH, CA - FEBRUARY 08: Tiger Woods (L) and Arjun Atwal walk past two deer during a practice round for the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am at the Monterey Peninsula Country Club on February 8, 2012 in Pebble Beach, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

    Padraig Harrington has been coming to the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am for a half-dozen years, for reasons that cause some players to stay away.
     
    The potential for a nasty mix of wind and rain?

      He's from Ireland.
     
    Rounds that stretch past six hours?
     
    He's in the company of good friends, Irish businessmen J.P. McManus (his partner) and Dermot Desmond.
     
    The difference this year is that Harrington needs to have more than a good time. The three-time major champion has been sliding since that magical 2008 season when he captured the British Open and PGA Championship. He now is No. 93 in the world, meaning he is not yet eligible for a pair of World Golf Championships over the next month.
     
    That becomes more critical because this is a Ryder Cup year. Harrington was a surprise captain's pick for Wales in 2010. Considering this might be the toughest European team ever to make, he's not at the top of anyone's list.

    He'll need world ranking points a lot of them and that means playing well.

    "There's no doubt I'm behind the eight-ball at this stage,'' Harrington said Wednesday. ``I haven't got very many points. It's not going to be a year that I can play well and get into it. I'm going to have to play great to get into the team. I'm not going to be able to pick up easy points and qualify that way. I'm going to have to actually really play well to force my way in.''
     
    The cause of this slump can be traced to swing changes, though Harrington says that's not the case. He says he discovered last summer that the game had simply become stale.
     
    So why does the swing change get so much attention.
     
    "I talk too much,'' he said. ``It's an Irish trait. I did what I normally do. I talked.''
     
    As for the swing, he always is changing that.
     
     Harrington said he revamped his swing after he first got his European Tour card. He adjusted his swing after winning his first major at Carnoustie in the 2007 British Open. He did it again after winning two majors a year later.
     
    "I made a massive change with Bob Torrance in `99,'' he said. ``When I won in Carnoustie, I was playing with a draw. When I won in Birkdale, I was trying to play with a fade. So I continually changed. But after 2008, I talked about it.
     
    "I think it's interesting what I'm doing, and I hope other people think it's interesting,'' he said. "Maybe it's my ego, but I like to tell people. But the difference is, there were more people listening. I had a bigger platform. So over the other years when I talked, I didn't get as much noise back.''
     
    This will be his third tournament of the year, on his third continent. He tied for 10th in South Africa at the Volvo Champions, then tied for 35th in Abu Dhabi.
     
    On Thursday, he gets started in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am on the Shore Course at Monterey Peninsula, far away from the celebrity circus.
     
    Tiger Woods is the big show this week, back at Pebble for this event for the first time in 10 years. He's playing with Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, with the other pro his good friend Arjun Atwal. The big names, such as Woods and Harrington, still have some say in their partners. Woods also managed to avoid part of the celebrity scene.
     
    When he eventually gets to Pebble Beach for the Saturday show, he'll be teeing off on the back nine. That leaves the likes of Bill Murray, Ray Romano, Andy Garcia and Huey Lewis on the other side of the course. The sports figures mixed in with celebrities include New England Patriots coach Bill Bellichick and 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, college coaches Nick Saban (Alabama) and Bob Stoops (Oklahoma), and former Houston Rockets star Clyde Drexler.
     
    No matter where they are, expect a glorious week.
     
    The worst of the weather _ which wasn't even that bad _ left on Tuesday, leaving a forecast of sunshine along the Monterey Peninsula, coupled with strong surf that leaves the vistas simply breathtaking.
     
    "If you have a bad experience here, it can feel like the longest week of your life,'' Geoff Ogilvy said as he walked up the fourth fairway at Pebble, his head turned to the right to gaze at the sea. ``If it's a good experience, it's enjoyable. And if it's like this, it can feel like the greatest week of the year.''
     
     It proved to be a tonic for Spencer Levin.
     
    Only four days ago, Levin was poised to win his first PGA Tour event when he took a six-shot lead into the final round of the Phoenix Open. He found himself rushing, just wanting the final round to be over, and he kept dropping shots. A double bogey on the 15th hole doomed him, and Kyle Stanley rallied from eight shots behind to win.
     
    Levin was heartbroken, which was to be expected.
     
    "I was really bummed out Sunday night, pretty bummed out Monday,'' Levin said. ``But I got here, and then I was like, `Man, I get to play Pebble Beach today, so that's pretty cool.' It's not like you're going home and playing the muni in your backyard. `Wow, I'm at Pebble.' So I didn't think about it much playing out here.''
     
    Davis Love III is making his 27th start at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-am.
     
    He was part of the washout in 1996 when the tournament was canceled because only 36 holes could be completed. He was there in 1998, when players had to return in August to get in three rounds and make it official. He won in 2001 and 2003 in good weather. He has been part of 54-hole events won by Payne Stewart and Dustin Johnson.
     
    Even someone of his experience realizes this week is something special.
     
    "I've never seen three golf courses in this good of shape,'' Love said. ``Guys that have played a lot this year said these are the best greens they've seen so far this year. You don't usually hear that when you get to Pebble Spyglass.

    "This is why we come here,'' Love said. "To get days like this.''