Padraig’s disciples have passed him by

Most of the very best golfers in the world are taking a break following the US Open, and Padraig Harrington can’t count himself in that number right now.

Trying to regain the form that made him the best player on the planet late in 2008, Paddy is playing among the PGA Tour journeymen and guys up from the Nationwide Tour this week in the Travelers Championship.

"There’s a big summer ahead and that’s what I’ll focus on," said Harrington, whose only victory since he won the Open Championship and the PGA Championship a month apart three years ago came at something called the Iskandar Johor Open last year in Singapore. "I actually feel my game is in great shape going forward, so I’m not panicking.

“You go through periods where no matter how hard you try to win, you just don’t. And you go through periods where you can’t do anything wrong. It’s a tough game and you just have to be patient."

The numbers are not pretty.

Since winning three major championships in a span of 13 months, Harrington has played 52 times in the PGA Tour and another 18 on the European Tour without a victory.

Earlier this month, he fell out of the top 50 in the World Golf Rankings, last week sitting at No. 52, after being as high as No. 3 behind Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia three years ago.

Now, he’s the No. 3 Irishman, behind Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell.

And there is another number catching up with Harrington: He will be 40 next month, and perhaps not coincidentally, he has been slowed by injuries this season.

“I don’t want to drop out of the top 50, but what can I do?" said Paddy, who tied for 45th in the U.S. Open. "It’s not through lack of trying and I feel my game’s in great shape. I think I’m in a position to go forward.

" … I still feel like I am a young man, and I am fitter and stronger than I have been at any stage of my life."

Harrington’s season started on a sour note when he was disqualified after shooting 65 in the first round of the Abu Dhabi Championship, because a television viewer noticed his ball had moved slightly on the green before a putt.

Although he has posted top-10 finishes in the WGC-Cadillac Championship, the Shell Houston Open and the Wells Fargo Championship, he was bothered early in the season by a chronic neck injury.

Then, while missing the cut in the Players Championship, Paddy tweaked his troublesome right knee, which required minor surgery in May 2010, and it forced him to miss the BMW PGA Championship last month.

"My leg seems great, and there was no problem with it whatsoever," Harrington told reporters a few weeks ago after playing 18 holes at Royal St. George’s, the site of next month’s Open Championship. "The rest from competition has done it good.

"It was wise to (miss the) BMW PGA Championship even though I doubted myself that I may have withdrawn too early. So the rest from competition has done it good, and I was really pleased to be able to get a full 18-hole look at Royal St. Georges because it’s been eight years since I was here last."

Harrington has been questioned for making swing changes with instructor Bob Torrance when he was at the top of his game, but his game has been a work in progress since the two first hooked up.

Torrance took a player who hit the ball short and crooked as an amateur, not a good combination for a golfer, and made him a three-time major champion.

"When I first saw Padraig, his technique was poor," Torrance said. "His swing didn’t create a lot of leverage, and his lower-body movement was awful. He had a very flat shoulder plane and a deep arm swing. . . . Ach, his swing was awful."

The reworked game has led to 22 victories around the world since 1994, but the changes in the last three years have not allowed Harrington to be involved in Europe’s recent domination of the World Golf Rankings.

Or have they?

"I think you need one guy to kind of inspire a generation to kind of follow in their footsteps," said Luke Donald, the newest No. 1 player in the world. "For me I guess that was probably Padraig Harrington winning his three majors back in 2008 while I was probably on the couch in a sling (following wrist surgery).

"I think when you’re around people that you’re pretty familiar with and see that they are accomplishing great things, it sets a little bit of a fire in your belly that if they can do it, so can I. I think we’ve got to thank his successes a little bit for this great run in European golf."

That’s fine to a point, but Harrington wants to get back in the game.