Padraig Harrington isn't trying to downplay this afternoon's showdown with Tiger Woods in the final round of the Bridgestone Invitational. He's trying to build it up.
By the time the Irishman finishes psyching himself to step onto the first tee with the world's No. 1 player, there won't be a golf ball atop the Firestone Country Club water tower. Harrington will envision Woods' head perched there, beaming in victory of course.
''All my life as a pro I've had many people that I would put up on a pedestal and felt like it would be a big deal to beat them,'' Harrington said. ''Even as an amateur, that's probably what motivated me. I used to think this guy was better than me. I've always been the guy trying to beat the top dog.''
But we're not just talking any top dog here. We're talking about a dog who has marked this territory, who has won the $8.5 million World Golf Championships event six times and has never finished lower than tied for fifth.
Who has earned 10 of his 66 stroke-play victories in Ohio.
Who has come from behind to win 19 times, three times at Firestone.
Who has won 14 major championships to Harrington's three.
Harrington leads Woods by 3 shots and wishes it were more. After carding a 3-under 67 in the third round Saturday while Woods shot 65, Harrington swore he had no idea that Woods stood second.
''Until I holed out on 18, I looked up to see who I would be paired with tomorrow. It was a surprise to see him there,'' Harrington said.
It was hard to believe Harrington didn't hear the roars as Woods birdied four of the final six holes, even though Woods was seven groups behind him.
He might not have been aware of him then, but Harrington admitted he always knows what Woods shoots.
''Barring my playing partners the first two days, I couldn't tell you 10 individual scores. But you always know where Tiger is,'' Harrington said. ''He's earned that reputation, he deserves it. We are all aware of him. At the end of the day there is an intimidation factor there.''
To his credit, Harrington beat Woods when they played together in the final group at the 2006 Dunlop Phoenix on the Japan Golf Tour. Woods led by 3 strokes with six holes remaining, but Harrington prevailed, birdieing the second playoff hole.
''That was different,'' Harrington said. ''I could see he was in cruise control, settling for pars. I saw an opportunity that if I could start making birdies, maybe he's just taking the foot off the pedal a bit early.''
Harrington knows that the chances of Woods taking his foot off the pedal too early today is about the same as the chances of him never winning another major. So as he prepares for what he knows will be a difficult day, Harrington will draw more from the 2002 Target World Challenge, an unofficial event in California, when Harrington beat Woods by 2 strokes.
''He pressed all day and it came right down to the wire there,'' Harrington said. ''He was pushing and I needed to stay ahead of him. That was a bigger win, in the States. Probably the Target was more character-building.''
Harrington will need all of his character, all of his wiles, all of his reconstructed swing to go head-to-head with Woods. It took Woods longer to get going in this event than usual, but he turned on the magic in the final six holes.
After birdies at 13 and 15, he went for the jugular. He denied he took a more aggressive approach with his shot-making, even though his smile indicated otherwise. Harrington used that strategy, saying he turned it up a notch after three big par saves at Nos. 8, 9 and 10.
''It's just a little bit of a change in mindset and sometimes that happens when you make a few recoveries, you feel a little more bullet-proof, I suppose, and you go after a few things,'' Harrington said.
In Woods' three come-from-behind victories at Firestone, he's never trailed by more than 2 strokes. He stood 2 strokes behind Jim Furyk in 2001 and beat Furyk in a playoff. In 2006, he trailed Stewart Cink by 1 stroke and beat Cink in a playoff. In 2007, he trailed Rory Sabbatini by 1 stroke and crushed Sabbatini and Justin Rose by 8 shots.
So the stage is set for drama today, and perhaps a late start for 60 Minutes. If Harrington can knock Woods off his pedestal four days before the start of the year's final major, on Woods' favorite playground, Harrington will have really hit the target.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow the Bridgestone Invitational at firestone.ohio.com.