- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 3, 2003

With Kenny Perry sitting out this week, Ireland’s Padraig Harrington wears the target at the Capital Open at Avenel as the hottest player on the property.

The 31-year-old Dubliner, one of a host of European Tour regulars using the Capital Open as a tuneup for next week’s U.S. Open at Olympia Fields (Ill.), arrives at Avenel in an excellent run of form. In his last two starts overseas, the world’s seventh-ranked player finished second in the Benson & Hedges International and then bested a field that included Tiger Woods for his second victory of the season at the German Open.

“The results have been there, but to be honest, I don’t feel very hot,” said Harrington, who finished T13 at last week’s Memorial. “It’s been a bit of a battle waiting for my swing to come around, and I certainly feel like my best play is still ahead of me.”

If that’s an unsettling thought for the rest of the 156-man field at Avenel, perhaps Harrington’s lack of experience on the layout provides some relief. Harrington, who spent four hours tinkering with his equipment on the range yesterday, will get his first look at the 7,005-yard, par-71 layout today. And like most of the nine European Tour regulars in attendance (including Jose Maria Olazabal, Bernhard Langer and Angel Cabrera), his primary focus will be on honing his game for next week’s major.

“We all want to do well here, but obviously you’re ultimately measured by your performance in the majors,” said Harrington, one of only two players (along with Sergio Garcia) to finish in the top 20 in each of last season’s four majors. “My first event in the States was just down the road at Congressional [the 1997 U.S. Open]. I went home with my tail between my legs after that experience, thinking I’d never have the game to get around a golf course set up like that. I think that was a crucial learning experience, because it gave me a new measuring stick. Ever since, I’ve always wanted to win a U.S. Open, because it’s the hardest for a European player to win.”

If Harrington doesn’t post a major breakthrough this year, don’t be surprised if he hops to the PGA Tour next season, possibly making the Capital Open a staple in his schedule.

“My form has always seemed to follow me to the States, perhaps because the greens tend to be faster and more challenging here,” said Harrington, one of the world’s best with the blade. “Playing greens like that regularly can only help you in majors, so I am considering coming to the States full time next year.”

Blue ‘do

England’s John Morgan raised more eyebrows than anyone else yesterday, strolling onto the range mid-afternoon with his hair dyed a vibrant Porta-John blue.

“I’m just trying to be myself and let my hair down,” said the 25-year-old European Tour regular. “For years, I had it bleached this sort of platinum blond, and the boys [on tour] recently said, ‘How about blue?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, why not?’”

Loose divots

Longtime fan favorite Fred Couples, the 1983 tournament champion and winner of the recent Houston Open, withdrew yesterday, citing back problems that have dogged him throughout his career. …

The Capital Open handed out its final quartet of slots late yesterday afternoon, with Joe Acosta, Clodomiro Carranza, Sean Murphy and Mike Clark qualifying from among a field of 92 players at Little Bennett.

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