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Harrington backs fast talk with slow and steady play

By BOB HARIG, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 30, 2003

PONTE VEDRA BEACH -- The only thing fast about Padraig Harrington is the way he talks. He speaks English, but the Irish accent and the quick delivery sometimes makes it difficult to follow.

Known for his deliberate manner on the course, Harrington is the opposite off. You could go to sleep watching him play and be awakened by his chatter.

"He made me hungry for some Lucky Charms," NBC commentator Johnny Miller said after listening to a Harrington interview.

Harrington, 32, might be a bit quirky, but he can play, though he does so slowly.

The 10th-ranked player in the world, Harrington shot 2-under 70 Saturday at the TPC-Sawgrass Stadium Course to share the third-round lead at the Players Championship with 49-year-old Jay Haas at 11-under 205.

They go into what is expected to be a windy, cool, rainy final round today with a two-shot advantage over Fred Couples (69), Davis Love (70) and defending champion Craig Perks (70). Lurking five back was the world's No. 1 player, Tiger Woods, whose 68 left him tied for 12th.

"If I play a good solid round, (bad weather) makes it a little bit easier to try and catch the guys," Woods said. "Any time it becomes windy this golf course becomes a mystery to try and figure out what club to pick. You are going to see some good shots end up in weird places."

Harrington, 32, may be relatively unknown to U.S. fans, but he has been a force in Europe for years. A six-time winner on the PGA European Tour, Harrington finished second to Retief Goosen on the Order of Merit each of the past two years. He can become the first European to win the Players since Sandy Lyle in 1987.

He also hovered around contention at last year's first three major championships, finishing in the top 10 at the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open before a 17th at the PGA Championship.

And he held off Woods at the Target World Challenge, a non-PGA Tour event, in December, shooting a third-round 63 and beating Woods by two for his only victory in the United States.

"The comfort I got from winning that event was just winning," Harrington said. "It was nice that Tiger was there. It added to the media coverage. It was new ground for me, and it was nice to do."

Haas, trying to play his way into the Masters in two weeks by either moving into the top 10 on the money list (he is 15th) or by moving into the top 50 in the world ranking (he is 57th), equaled the day's low score of 67. A victory here would mean an automatic Masters invite.

Not bad for a guy who figures to play next year on the Champions Tour.

"I don't feel any different than I did 10 years ago, 15 years ago," Haas said. "I'm hitting it longer because of technology. It (age) has evolved slowly. I don't really think that I can't make a putt because it's a tough putt and I'm 49 and I'm shaking. I don't think that way."

Haas, a nine-time PGA Tour winner, has not won since 1993, though he finished second to Mike Weir this year at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic after hitting his approach into the water on the final hole.

"This would be my biggest win," Haas said. "This would be a pretty big upset against the talent that's out here today."

Haas referred to the young guns on tour, but a look at the leaderboard might cause flashbacks to '93. Haas, Couples, Love and Corey Pavin were in their primes then, and they're in contention today.

"It gives me hope," said Pavin, the 1995 U.S. Open winner who shot 69 and was tied for sixth, three strokes back. "Jay's played great this year. It's great to see. He's a great guy. It's fun to see a 49-year-old out playing competitively with everybody. It inspires everybody else in that age group to realize we can go out there and do it, too."

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