x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Harmon hopes for a 'duel in the sun'

Whoever emerges from the famous Butler's Cabin on Sunday evening wearing the iconic green jacket of a US Masters champion, he is likely to have the name of Harmon on his list of victory speech acknowledgments.

DUBAI // Whoever emerges from the famous Butler's Cabin on Sunday evening wearing the iconic green jacket of a US Masters champion, he is likely to have the name of Harmon on his list of victory speech acknowledgments. Butch Harmon, the renowned American golfing guru, cemented his coaching reputation by turning Tiger Woods from a big-hitting but erratic youngster into the finest player the world has seen.

Butch, a sprightly 65-year-old, is now working closest to Phil Mickelson, Tiger's fiercest rival in the battle for world supremacy, and is also advising South Africa's "Big Easy" Ernie Els on what he hopes will be the third leg of a career grand slam in the majors. As Butch's son Claude Harmon III remarked as he looked forward to what promises to be an exciting four days over the testing terrain of the Augusta National: "There is hardly a player in the professional ranks who my dad has not had some kind of contact with."

Harmon jnr, who is the resident teacher at the family's academy at the Els Course in Dubai Sports City, has also enjoyed a taste of Masters glory, having guided the defending champion Trevor Immelman in the South African's formative years. Claude discussed with his father the ideal scenario for this year's Masters and the conclusion was that Woods needs to be in the shake up along with as many as possible of those seeking to take over the mantle of world No 1.

"Our game is in desperate need at the moment of a sustained rivalry at the top of the rankings between Tiger and his closest challengers," said Harmon. "The economic crisis and Tiger's eight-month injury absence have combined to hit the sport hard so it's important the recovery starts this week. "There has never really been a foil for Tiger to battle against since he became No 1. In the past Jack Nicklaus had Lee Trevino and Tom Watson and there were many intense battles among the leaders of previous generations.

"But somebody has to stand up to Tiger and go head to head with him in the next few majors. "I'm not trying to be controversial but Tiger is the game right now. The best players in the world know that and he knows that. He is our sport and I can't imagine what it must be like to carry that burden. I hope he plays well at Augusta and those closest to him remain in the mix with him for all four days."

The Harmon dynasty are particularly keen to see Woods and Mickelson, who have won five of the last eight Masters between them, slugging it out again in the final group on Sunday afternoon. "My dad tells me he is pleased with the way Phil has prepared himself for this and he arrives at Augusta in great form. We all know that the he and Tiger are not the best of pals but it would be great if they could have a 'duel in the sun' like Watson and Nicklaus had all those years ago."

The world's top two are the obvious leaders of the American campaign to repel their overseas challengers, headed, in Claude's opinion, by Australia's Geoff Ogilvy, Els and Sergio Garcia. The younger Harmon has not been convinced by the preparations of Ireland's Padraig Harrington in search of third successive major title. "Harrington has had a strange year," said Harmon. "Since the PGA he has not played well at all and played quite poorly in the Ryder Cup.

"There have not been any signs of him rounding into the type of form that saw him win two majors last year. But Augusta is so much down to putting and if he gets that part of his game right he will be a big threat again." wjohnson@thenational.ae