HONDA CLASSIC Padraig Harrington is defending champ

Like the conditions in Ireland, he'd like to see a bit of wind this week.
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (AP) -- Padraig Harrington almost had it easy at last year's Honda Classic.
He'd never won before on the PGA Tour, and barely held afterthought status when entering the final day seven shots back. Then he birdied 10 of his first 13 holes, shot a 9-under-par 63, and got his first triumph when Vijay Singh missed a 2 1/2-foot putt on the second playoff hole.
So today, Harrington gets his first taste of defending a tour crown.
"There's a lot of expectations with defending," said Harrington, an Irishman who's been a 26-time runner-up worldwide. "Definitely, the easiest way to win an event is, without a doubt, to be playing well and to be under the radar."
Can't hide
That isn't the case this year, since the defending champion is thrust into a starring role entering any tournament. And none of the game's seven top-ranked players -- Tiger Woods, Singh, Phil Mickelson, et al. -- are here either, allowing Harrington to bask in more pre-tournament spotlight.
"The only thing I can do as good as last year is win again this year. ... It's still a nice problem to have," Harrington said.
Harrington opened his PGA schedule at the Match Play Championship, reaching the quarterfinals, then tied for 26th last week in the Ford Championship at Doral.
Asked about the current state of his game, Harrington grimaced a bit. Still, considering he's a strong wind player -- it always seems to be breezy, at least, at Mirasol's Sunrise course -- and has prevailed here before, he's probably as good a bet as anyone.
"Growing up in Ireland, you learn how to play the wind. Or if you don't, you don't play golf, one or the other," Harrington said. "Yeah, I like the conditions here. I'm very comfortable here. I'd be happy to see a bit of wind this week."
It's Honda's finale at Mirasol; the tournament moves across the street to PGA National next year. There's only four of the world's top 22 players in this field, led by No. 8 David Toms -- who bogeyed the final hole last week at Doral and finished one shot behind Woods.
"The wind will dictate the scores," Toms said, "like it always does here."
Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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