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Sunday 17 December 2017

Pádraig happy for shell shot

Dubliner glad for Masters warm-up as Woods reveals nerves

Pádraig Harrington will be happy he's still got the Shell Houston Open to play as he counts down to the US Masters.

Having notched up the best result of his career on the Blue Monster with a share of third place in the WGC-CA Championship at Doral last week, the Dubliner added the Transitions Championship to his schedule in an effort to knock some rust off his game before the season's first major at Augusta.

The first two days could not have gone much better for the world No10, who opened with a battling 68 and then took advantage of some scintillating iron play to post a six-under-par 65.

And, although Harrington failed to build on his start, slipping back to six-under after a final round of 72, his recent form has been promising.

"My father always told me as a kid, if you can't win, play well five months of the year; make sure you play well mid-season," Harrington said. "If you're going to pick a time to play well, play well through the four majors."

Harrington went into the third round of the Transitions Championship with high hopes of building a lead that would see him end a 19-month drought that dates back to his 2008 US PGA victory at Oakland Hills.

But he carded a disappointing one-over-par 72 on Saturday to fall four strokes behind Jim Furyk, who was chasing his first PGA Tour win for nearly three years. That hiccup was hardly a surprise to the Irish star, who knows that he is still a few weeks short of finding his best stuff.

"I'm capable of winning in the form I'm in," he said after his 65. "Am I in my best form? No. Am I getting there? Yes. I'm kind of in the form that I was in at the end of last year -- I'm happy that I've got another weekend of golf here and another tournament before Augusta, let's say."

Having struggled to hole putts in the third round, Harrington knew that he faced a tough task to close a four stroke gap on Furyk in last night's final round.

"I don't want to give Jim a four-shot lead over a four-round tournament, let alone one round," Harrington confessed on Saturday.

"There's enough guys behind that somebody is going to shoot a good score and put some pressure on him. Hopefully it's me."

As it turned out it was KJ Choi and not Harrington who was chasing Furyk down the stretch over the fearsome Copperhead course at Innisbrook.

Furyk edged two shots clear of the Korean on 14 under with eight to play but, while Harrington birdied the 10th to get back to level for the day, he bogeyed at the 12th and to slip eight shots behind on six under.

Meanwhile, Tiger Woods is apprehensive about the reception he will get from the fans at next month's US Masters when he returns to the PGA Tour from self-imposed exile.

"I don't know. I'm a little nervous about that, to be honest with you," he said yesterday about his return to the Augusta National.

Earlier this month, there had been widespread speculation he would come back for next week's Arnold Palmer Invitational or the private Tavistock Cup, both near his home in Orlando.

"I wasn't ready to play in Tavistock or play in Bay Hill," Woods said. "I started too late with my preparation. (Coach) Hank (Haney) and I are starting to work now and to get it going.

"I'm starting to get my feel back. I know how to play the golf course and that helps a lot," he added referring to Augusta National. "I just got to play it."

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