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April 8, 2008

Padraig Harrington


JIM BLANCHARD: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I'd like to welcome you and welcome Padraig Harrington to Augusta. As many of you know, Padraig captured his first major in a playoff victory in 2007 in the British Open, started the final round six strokes off the lead. He also won the Irish Open, the Irish PGA and the Hassan II Trophy and was named European Tour Player of the Year.
He has a total of 17 international wins, a four-time Ryder Cup Team member, this is his ninth Masters appearance, and he's won our Par 3 Tournament twice in, 2003 and 2004. (Laughter) His best finish in the Tournament is tied for fifth in 2002 and we are delighted to welcome him this morning and ask if you'd like to make a comment or two before the questions.
PADRAIG HARRINGTON: As always, I'm delighted to be coming back here. It is maybe slightly different coming back as Major Champion in terms of a little bit more expectation and a little bit more focus in that terms. But coming back to Augusta, it's always a magical place, and it's somewhere that you can't wait to get to, and especially the proceeding weeks, you're thinking about it; whether it's just being in the clubhouse, being in the range or being on the golf course. Everything about here is something you look forward to and something very special, so it's good to be here, and you do have to make an effort to try and enjoy it all, because it is a major week and it's easy to forget all the good things around the place.
But certainly, that's a good way of going about the week is to make sure that you do see the beauty around the place and enjoy the week.

Q. Do you feel double-cursed here now?
PADRAIG HARRINGTON: Absolutely not. I'll be playing the Par 3 Competition and trying to win it again hoping that three times might be a charm.
I believe that if you want to put some spin on it superstitious-wise, I believe if you win it twice, you're bound to win the actual event. (Laughter).

Q. When did you start thinking about Augusta this year?

Q. In terms of preparation and practice.
PADRAIG HARRINGTON: I think you're always aware of the next major, and this has been the next major for seven months, and so, yeah, you're very much aware of what's going around.
Yeah, I've been thinking about it for that long, and the last couple of weeks, I made a few equipment changes specifically for this week, and that might be -- you might say it moved up a gear in those couple of weeks.
But in general, you know, when the Masters is over, I'll be thinking about the U.S. Open, and what needs to be done; if there is anything that needs to be changed or worked on for that event, so seven months waiting for this one.

Q. Any changes?
PADRAIG HARRINGTON: I put in a 64-degree wedge this week and I've gone back to a longer-shafted driver and I put in a stronger 3-wood, just a few things like that.

Q. Last year Zach admitted he didn't go for a par 5, goes 11-under on the par 5s; does that play into anybody's mind because he wanted a wedge in his hand, a scoring club in his hand, more so?
PADRAIG HARRINGTON: What did I play the par 5s in last year? I was 5-over, was it? I went for half of them.
I think what you have to realize is that Zach didn't choose to leave himself a wedge on the par 5s. Zach played to his strengths. He's a medium-length hitter so on these par 5s he wasn't in range so he laid up on all of the par 5s. His wedge way is one of the strongest parts of his game, whereas another player, you know, I would be -- I'm the type of player who gets some range on the par 5s. I might not quite overpower them but I certainly a.m. in range and my strength is always hit it up around the greens and then use my short game to get it up-and-down.
I wouldn't necessarily say I'm the guy who hits all the par 5s in two, but I generally figure I can chip the ball closer from, you know, around the green than I can hit a wedge in there.
It is interesting that the strategy, you know, paid such dividends, but it was his strength, and everybody has to play to their own strengths, whatever that may be. I would suggest my goal for the par 5s this week would be choosing the right shaft at the right time; who knows whether that's going for the green or laying up.

Q. You said last week you wanted to consciously cut back on your practice time. Just wondering with your clubs turning up late yesterday, how has that affected you?
PADRAIG HARRINGTON: My clubs didn't turn up. They came an hour later than I wanted or something like that, had no affect on me whatsoever.
I did practice for four hours on the putting green yesterday which is not what I initially planned but I was a bit uncomfortable on the greens so I needed a bit of work.
The key here over the years, people tend to overdo it. I think the more you play the golf course, the more experience you have of it; the less you feel that you have to go out there and cover every blade of grass. A lot of things -- it's not -- you essentially can't prepare yourself for everything. There are going to be slight variations on pin positions, slight changes all the time, and you just have to run with it. The one thing you don't want to do on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday is get into the psychology of trying to cover everything, which I have in the past, and that only wears you out if you do happen to get into position on Sunday, you want to be fresh.

Q. It used to be that when somebody won this, we would ask him about winning the Grand Slam and it really wasn't all that serious of a discussion. This year we've been talking for four months already about whether or not Tiger might be able to do it, and it seems like a casual conversation. Does it seem amazing that it has come to that?
PADRAIG HARRINGTON: Well, it doesn't seem amazing because we have been talking about it or you've been talking about it for four months; we've kind of gotten used to it. (Laughter).
Yeah, you know, it shows that it's been a long time since a player has been capable of winning a Grand Slam. I think you would have to go back to, you know, Nicklaus and Hogan and the greats back then to think of somebody who is going to win all four in one year. I'm even thinking to the great Europeans in the 80s and the 90s, you know, I suppose some of them at the top of their game, it would have been possible at that stage. But I think you really do have to go back to the Nicklaus's and Hogans and guys like that to think of the last person who you really consider to win four.
And Tiger, obviously there's no question he moved into that category the last number of years, so I'm sure they talked about Nicklaus winning the Grand Slam; so it should be no surprise to us that they are talking about Tiger winning the Grand Slam. You know, it's definitely possible for him. I do think it's a difficult task. You know, I think it is up to you guys to hype it up, but you know, to win all four, you know, if he goes and does that, he really does deserve a pat on the back. (Laughter).

Q. Winning at Carnoustie last year and playing in the two tournaments that you played in prior to this one, do you feel mentally now that you're better prepared for the Masters than you have been for previous ones?
PADRAIG HARRINGTON: Yes. You know, I think winning at Carnoustie does a couple of things for me. One is obviously, you know, I can look back to that and use it as a yardstick to judge what preparation is good for me. And the second thing, which I think is unquantifiable and I will only find out in time; having won a major, if I am in contention again, I assume that I feel somewhat -- a little bit more relaxed about it, let's say, or a little bit more, the fact that I have gone and done one in that situation should help.
But I won't know until I'm in that situation whether it is a bonus having won one major before, but I assume it is. So there's two benefits from having won at Carnoustie.

Q. Where do you rate Augusta in terms of level of difficulty compared to Carnoustie? For a long time, Carnoustie was regarded as maybe even the most difficult test in championship golf. Have all of the changes here increased Augusta's difficulty and does that play to your strength?
PADRAIG HARRINGTON: Carnoustie obviously is probably the toughest of the links golf courses and certainly the toughest of the Open rota.
It's hard to compare a links golf course to Augusta. I always say when you come here, the test is right there at Augusta. You've got to -- it's not good enough to hit your iron shots straight into the greens. They have got to be struck right so that they land in the right sections and that they go straight and also stop in the right section. So you're being asked three questions every time you're hitting into the greens here, where sometimes you can play another golf course and if runs to the back of the green, that's fine, you can 2-putt from there.
I think of all of the courses, really, you've got to be 100% here. Coming down the stretch, hitting into all the greens through the back nine, you know, there's an awful lot of intimidation factor on those holes, and you've got to be spot-on.
I think this is a real test of your -- not just of your nerve, but of your ability to strike the ball. I think you couldn't compare the two, though. It's a different sort of toughness. There is an element of both courses, you've got to be patient and you've got to accept that some things are going to go against you and you've got to be -- you are tested on your ability, especially when you play links golf courses to deal with a bit of adversity, and I think of all the -- parkland golf courses, it does throw in that adversity and test that sort of mental strength.
Golf was always about not just testing the ability to hit the golf ball well but to handle the different things that are thrown up, and Augusta really does test everybody on all fronts.
There's no question you are going to get some bad breaks this week or perceived bad breaks. You're going to hit a good shot that you've miss-clubbed on or something and you end up taking bogey or double-bogey, so there is a lot of mental resolve out here. And you've got to be very strong, a bit like playing on a links course. You've got to be very good with your head this week.

Q. You've already won one major, and it was the Open; is this the one you would think was most likely next?
PADRAIG HARRINGTON: Well, do you need a good short game, and that's one of my strengths. There's no question that I would dearly love to win here. I think this, I would say a lot of my practice is done with the idea that I want to improve my golf swing so I can manage to play Augusta. So, yeah, it's right in the forefront of my thoughts when if you can get around Augusta, hit the shots out here, there's no golf course you can't play.

Q. Do you think that the difficulty of the greens is the key problem here at Augusta?
PADRAIG HARRINGTON: It is a difficulty but it's only one of the elements. There's a lot of things going on on the golf course. You do got to drive it long and straight. Zach Johnson didn't, though, so maybe you don't have to do that -- (laughter).
If I was to ask for anything this week, it would be if I make good decisions all week, as a first goal. Good decisions all week would be right up there with putting well. Those are probably the two biggest things you want to do during the week. You make good decisions and putt well, you'll have a good week.

Q. I was intrigued when you said that you have to remind yourself to enjoy this environment. When you do that, what are examples of things you do enjoy when you're here?
PADRAIG HARRINGTON: Driving down Magnolia Lane. I enjoy watching -- different people come with me and some are here for the first time and I enjoy watching them, how excited they get. I have a couple of people with me, and it's amazing how excited people get coming here for the first time. It's nice to enjoy other people's reaction.
Golf course-wise, we're playing one of the best courses in the world in the best shape set up for us. That can't be too bad, can it? We're playing in one of the best environments. Just everything about it is just about perfect. It's so easy to get caught up in grinding a little bit too much and just not letting it all pass by you, but it is -- if you kind of watch other people's reactions, the sort of non-golfers and how much they are enjoying it, it's easy to see how enjoyable of a week this is.

Q. The Ryder Cup, the pre-game talk has always been let's tone it down, let's kind of calm the waters. Are you surprised at the open antagonism that's surfaced now with Azinger?
PADRAIG HARRINGTON: I'm very surprised, because I don't know. I intend to play with him in the Par 3 competition tomorrow; should have scratched my name. (Laughter) I'm really not aware of it the at all. Is there really antagonism ?

Q. He had some bitter comments.
PADRAIG HARRINGTON: You know, I think Paul is going to be a great captain, exactly what the U.S. Team needs, and that's honest. I think he's going to help them a lot. I think Nick is going to be a great captain. I do believe it's going to be a great match. I don't believe the players have any antagonism to each other. I think we get on; we play so much together. During the week, we'll have a good, tough match, but you know, if I was playing against my brother, or any of my brothers, I'd have a good, tough match, and we'd walk off the golf course and there would be no quarter given on the course but off the golf course it would be totally different.
If there's being something drummed up in the press, I don't subscribe to it. Paul, he definitely will want to win. He's a strong character. But it's not coming from the players.

Q. You may have heard they are showing the Par 3 Contest on TV this year --
PADRAIG HARRINGTON: Yeah, I'm going out to practice. (Laughter).

Q. A lot of people haven't seen it, and they don't really know. The people on-site have seen a side of players they don't normally see. Can you characterize and describe what it's like for you guys to play out there and how different it is from your real-life job?
PADRAIG HARRINGTON: The first thing people don't realize, you stand on that first tee, it's a 100-yard shot and you can't tell where the wind is coming from whether it's right-to-left, left-to-right or into you, first Shot of the day, you're bearings are off and the crowd is six or eight or ten feet from the hole and you're thinking, don't hit it in the crowd. It's one of the most nerve-wracking shots of the week. (Laughter).
It's fun. It's great. You get into it and every hole you're standing there and trying to hole out, and that's what I try and do on every hole, because you get a piece of crystal for every eagle you make. Close to the hole, you're not quite sure who is closest but you know if you hole it out you're going to win that piece of crystal. It's a bit of fun, a bit of excitement.
To me, it helps me play in the actual tournament. You know, there's no question that for nine holes, your focus has to be -- even though there is a lot going on, you have to get into your focus over each shot and gives you a little bit of practice on your wedge play and the pace of the greens and holing out your 4-footers.
It's always important to be as match-ready as you can be, and a little nine hole, light-hearted bit of fun, card in your hand sort of thing can help you get focused, so it is a help for me for the Tournament. I wouldn't want to miss it.

Q. Speaking for yourself or maybe some of your peers in Europe, is everybody kind of ready for the drug testing program, however it is administered over there, to begin? Do you think now that it's kind of upon us, do you think some of the players are prepared for it and ready and willing to go forward with it?
PADRAIG HARRINGTON: That's a big question. Very big question.
Well, I think Europe is slightly different in many ways. We've had drug testing in Europe for a number of years. The French events, and the Open has always had a drug testing policy, and I think it moved that way in Europe and certainly there was a push to move to drug testing in Europe because most of the countries you travel to, the events are sponsored or at least in part sponsored by the Tourism boards which the governments insist on having the Olympic Council drug policy sort of thing in place. In Europe it's been a natural move for a number of years and we all knew it was coming.
So, yes, we are prepared in Europe; but in terms of actually as players, are we prepared for drug testing, unfortunately for us, we haven't been brought up in that environment. You know, if you're an athlete from the age of probably 14, 15 years of age and sometimes even younger, you're conditioned to maybe ask a question before you take any medicine. You know, anybody in athletics, they wouldn't eat or take anything before and question it, whereas all of the professional golfers, we've been around a long time, and guys, if they get a headache, they automatically take headache tablets and if they get the flu they take whatever they can buy across the counter in the shop or take sleeping tablets or whatever, because we conditioned to ask those questions.
There is going to be a period of time where players have to stop and think. It won't be automatic for a few years. I do feel that, I don't think there's any issue or problem in golf whatsoever. I do believe the testing in the short term, you know, if there is positives, I reckon there will be a couple of positives where they are accidental; you know, somebody took something and just wasn't aware, which is obviously going to be an issue. But it's needed. It has to be there. You know, we believe the sport is clean but it has to be seen to be clean, as well, and so it is important to have that policy in place.
The transitional period will be difficult for some players, there's no question. You can go back to the French Open, there was a positive test three or four years -- must be six years ago now, one player, because he took a cortisone injection and the doctor had not checked the right box. It was not his fault but still came up a positive. There was no problem but the player himself got a lot of bad press over it and it affected sponsorship and things like that.
The transition will never be pleasant. And I am aware there are certain players who are on medication and in order for them to be allowed to stay on that medication, they want them to come off the medication so they can get a baseline view of that, which seems a little bit tough; if you need the medication, you can't really come off the medication.
As I said, transition is always going to be difficult but transition in everything is a little bit awkward. In five years time, ten years time, when you have a new crop of young guys coming up, they won't even think twice about it. They will know exactly what they can and can't do, and so we are going to put a little bit of effort in to make sure that, you know, the guys following us will have it a little easier.

Q. With all of the talk about dominance from Tiger Woods, is that motivational to you, or is that intimidating?
PADRAIG HARRINGTON: I would always say, you know, when it comes to Tiger, you have to actually do your own thing and not think about -- you've got to play your own game, and it's the only way to deal with -- any player, play your own game and do your own thing. If it doesn't come up good enough, just shake the other guy's hands and say "well done."
There's no point in looking at somebody else, except to learn from them -- there's no point in worrying about somebody else, let's say. Yeah, he's a great player at the top of his game and certainly brought the standard of everybody else up. But you know, you do your own thing.
JIM BLANCHARD: Padraig, you're a great champion. We thank you for this interview this morning, and we wish you well in the Tournament.

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