Padraig Harrington says he wouldn't have characterized himself as a "boy star" back in his native Ireland. In fact, he studied accounting so he could work in the golf business -- not play. When he saw guys he could beat turn pro, though, the young Dubliner reconsidered. Even then, he'll candidly tell you his goals were modest.
"I was hoping to become a journeyman professional," recalled Harrington, who changed his thinking when he finished 11th on the European Tour Order of Merit as a rookie. "You have to go with the flow when it happens."
And at the midway point of THE PLAYERS Championship, Harrington now stands poised to rise to the top of his chosen profession.
The 31-year-old Irishman played 26 holes at the Stadium Course on the Tournament Players Club at Sawgrass on Friday. He put the finishing touches on a rain-delayed 67 in the first round and -- after a 45 minute break -- embarked on the second where he shot 68 to earn the lead at 9 under.
Harrington owns a two-stroke advantage over defending champion and surprise challenger Craig Perks, steady Davis Love III, who won the 1992 PLAYERS Championship, and Skip Kendall, the only man in the field to play bogey-free.
Harrington, whose second cousin Joey plays quarterback for the Detroit Lions, has won five times on the European Tour -- including the BMW Asian Open earlier this year. From his rather unpretentious beginnings, he has developed into one of the game's top players -- standing 10th in the Official World Golf Ranking and a steady force on European Ryder Cup teams.
Oddly enough, Harrington has never won a PGA TOUR event, although top-10 finishes last year in the first three majors and a tie for 17th at the PGA Championship certainly indicate he could be ready to break out.
He did hold off Tiger Woods last December to win the Williams World Challenge in Thousand Oaks, Calif., as well.
"It was great that Tiger was there," Harrington said. "But as I've always said, I'm just as intimidated by an Ernie Els, a Phil Mickelson, Davis Love, who's in second place. These are all guys, when I was an amateur, who were big stars. Playing against Tiger is just the same as the other guys nearly. If you feel like you're the underdog, it doesn't matter who you're coming up against.
"The comfort I got from that event was just winning. It was nice that Tiger was there. It added to the media coverage and sort of maybe a little bit after, the congratulations. But the confidence I took from that was that I went out and did my thing and won. In the States, which is always a little bit different from home, it was new ground for me."
Harrington got his day off to a positive start when he made a 6-footer for birdie on the 11th hole. It was a putt he had left after Thursday's round was called due to rain, and admitted he brooded over Thursday night. That was the first of four birdies in a five-hole stretch.
Harrington, who went to his chiropractor for treatment on his left hip between the two rounds Friday, struggled to keep his balance -- particularly when hitting his driver and 3-wood. He only hit seven of 14 fairways in the second round but scrambled well and took advantage when he had the chance to make six birdies.
"There wasn't very much simplicity in that round of golf," admitted Harrington, who had plenty of fodder for the journal he keeps about his play. "I didn't really knock it down the fairway, hit it to 15 feet and two putt. When you're wandering and you have to get up and down and you have to think a lot harder, it is mentally much tougher to do that."