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He's keeping it close

Harrington always seems to be in hunt

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. -- If you subscribe to the adage that nobody remembers who came in second, then you'll need to be reminded that Padraig Harrington's total is up to 23. As in 23 runner-up finishes on the American and European PGA Tours.

That staggering sum includes a loss on the third extra hole to Sergio Garcia Sunday at the Buick Classic in Rye, N.Y., which dropped his playoff record to 1-3. Considering that he has won on eight occasions, if he had taken half of those other close calls, he'd have nearly 20 career wins at age 32 and we could be mentioning him as the world's greatest player.

But Harrington isn't banging himself over the head with his putter.

"I don't get too bothered about the second places," said Harrington. "I've gotten used to them. I'm just indifferent; it doesn't do anything for me anymore. It's just one of those things."

Does Harrington consider it a good omen for him in this week's US Open that first-time major winners have prevailed in the last six marquee events?

"I don't believe so," said Harrington. "I think the odds are the same this week between a first-time winner and the experienced player. At the end of the day, somebody with no fear is going to go for that par chance every time and make par and never make double bogey and he's the guy who's going to win." Does Harrington think he has an advantage because Shinnecock Hills is similar to the great Irish links layouts he grew up on?

"To be honest, it's not like the links in Ireland that has trees on it," said Harrington. "You've got to think of it like Formby or Lytham in England that has trees and you are right next to the sea."

But when it came to being considered a favorite this week, Harrington couldn't disagree. He's been top 10 three times in seven tries in this championship and has been tied for fifth in three other majors -- the 2002 Masters, and British Opens in 1997 and 2002.

"Only in recent years have I come into form in the majors," said the Irishman. "Hopefully I'm getting to the stage where I can compete all four days and get myself in a position on Sunday to win."

Second time around
Tiger Woods was back to his customary early practice routine following Monday's afternoon front nine. He went off at about 7 a.m. with Charles Howell and played 18, then joined a parade of players in heaping praise upon Shinnecock. "This is going to be a fantastic tournament with the golf course the way it is," said Woods, whose appearance as an amateur in the 1995 US Open here ended early in Round 2. He drove into the fescue and tried a heroic shot, only to hurt his wrist. Too short a stay, he said, but "it was a great experience because I played some great practice rounds with some major championship winners that year." . . . Is Woods tired of people questioning his new swing? "Yeah, because a lot of times they don't have an understanding of what I'm trying to work on or what I'm working on or what they conceive is a nice swing." . . . Woods has failed to win any of the last seven majors, but even if the drought continues, it won't be a career-worst. After winning the first major he ever played in as a pro, the 1997 Masters, he failed to win any of the next 10. That skid was halted at the 1999 PGA Championship, beginning a streak in which he won seven of 11 majors . . . Woods has an 8 a.m. tee time in tomorrow's opening round, paired with Chad Campbell and Shigeki Maruyama off the first tee. Immediately in front of Woods's group will be a familiar trio: 50-year-old Jay Haas with Tom Kite, 54, and Raymond Floyd, 61. Floyd won the US Open at Shinnecock in 1986 and was made a member of the club several years ago.

Special delivery
The feel-good stories from sectional qualifying include veteran PGA Tour performers like Chris Smith. He was at the site in Columbus, Ohio, which had dozens of PGA Tour standouts among the 184 hopefuls for 33 spots. "We were 5 under with three holes to play and knew the cut would be 4 under," said Smith. "We were grinding." But not after a dramatic set of shots: a massive drive at a downhill par-5 of 520 yards that left him just 158, which he covered perfectly with a wedge. "A double eagle," said Smith, who finished 7 under to breeze through. "It went in and we said, `Shinnecock, here we come.' " . . . An upcoming book titled "My Greatest Shot" chronicles some of the greatest shots ever made in golf. The stories are told by the men and women who made them, and among the entries is a dramatic eagle at Shinnecock's demanding par-4 14th. It came at the 1995 US Open and allowed Vermont's Jeff Julian to make the cut. Julian holed out with 6-iron from 192 yards . . . As for the New England contingent, Casey Bourque of Biddeford, Maine, has a 7:20 assignment off the 10th tee with two other qualifiers, just ahead of a trio of Davis Love, Lee Westwood, and Peter Lonard; Geoff Sisk of Marshfield will play from the first tee at 12:10 p.m. Former Massachusetts Open champ John "Jumbo" Elliott, a member of the Nationwide Tour, will be in the second group off the first tee. Brad Faxon will be paired with Thomas Bjorn and Trevor Immelman at 8:20 a.m.

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