Golf is more than a game to Padraig Harrington — it's a life's work

A breakout star in 2007 and '08, when he won three majors, Harrington now is a seasoned pro carving out a living on tour. He plays Northern Trust Open at Riviera this week.

The top player in golf isn't in the Northern Trust Open field this week at Riviera Country Club and his name isn't Tiger Woods.

Rory Mcllroy, the Northern Ireland four-club clover who is still ahead of No. 2 Woods in the World Golf Rankings, took a pass on Pacific Palisades, as did Woods.

That still leaves the 144-player field with two rovers with Irish roots.

Graeme McDowell, also from Northern Ireland, makes his 2013 tour debut this week. McDowell was the winner of the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.

The other is Padraig Harrington, from the Republic of Ireland, who blazed the Irish trail by winning three majors in 2007 and 2008.

Harrington, 41, is now officially an old soul, still hacking it out against a game that always hacks back.

McIlroy in 20 years could be Harrington, looking at golf in a reflective mirror as he simultaneously insists he is effectively beating back time.

Harrington hasn't won a PGA Tour event, in America or Europe, since claiming his third major in 2008 at the PGA Championship. He won the British Open in 2007 and '08.

You can't get much higher than that, but it's hard to live in the rafters.

Harrington wears reading glasses now but is conceding nothing else to this week's field of players, or to golf in general.

"I'm much fitter, stronger, than I was when I came out on tour when I was 24," he said Tuesday in advance of Thursday's opening round.

He said he hits the ball farther.

"How long do I think that can go on?" he asked. "My ego says forever."

He has slipped to No. 48 in the world, but he says that's just a number.

Golf, he has learned, is so much more than a game. It's a test of physical endurance and mental gymnastics.

"The tour is far, far, far more than the ability to hit a golf ball," he said.

He is fascinated by all facets of golf, an almost impossible game played out between the ears over at least four continents.

McIlroy will someday find out what Harrington already knows.

Harrington watches up-and-comers like an old man sitting on a porch.

It's pretty clear guys like Mcllroy are built for the long run, but Harrington knows there is opportunity and weakness in other ball strikers.