Padraig Harrington, Europe's leading player ranked sixth in the world, will be chasing an unprecedented hat-trick at Augusta today.

It has become part of Masters history that nobody who wins the light-hearted eveoftournament par three competition goes on to win the title four days later.

But the Irishman has dismissed the so-called "jinx" as nonsense.

"It's all baloney," he said. "How could winning a tournament on a Wednesday affect how you play on a Thursday? That's rubbish.

"I've never hit a golf shot in my life where I haven't been trying. The only way I can't try and win the par three is not put my name down on the sheet."

And he will not be doing that.

Harrington tied with David Toms with a six under par 21 two years ago - the nine holes vary in length from 70 yards to 140 - and last year beat Eduardo Romero in a sudden death play-off after scoring 23.

In 2003 he went on to miss the halfway cut and last April he finished in a tie for 13th after holing-in-one at the short 16th in the final round just minutes after Kirk Triplett had done the same thing.

"If they come up with a new excuse that if you win the par three three years in a row you're assured to win there will be a new superstition," he added. "If you want to go over superstitions we can all add a few in there."

Harrington who has had break to be with his father Paddy, who is suffering from cancer of the oesophagus, believes he can stay focused on his task at hand.

"I'm working on the right thing so I'll not have a problem in the sense of my mind straying. I don't think it would be too much of a problem until the very end and then it could be very difficult. We'll wait and see how I handle it if I do get into that situation."

Having won his first US Tour title four weeks ago Harrington is confident of improving on his best Augusta finish - fifth in 2002, when he led by three after playing his first 11 holes in six under par.

Jack Nicklaus yesterday confirmed he will play in his 45th Masters, only a month after his grandson Jake, just 17 months old, drowned after falling into a hot tub at home.

"When I cancelled everything what was I going to do - sit home every day?" he commented. "The idea got in my head that I could play. At least once more."

The Golden Bear is joined by fellow-American Jay Haas and Japan ' s Shingo Katayama.

Darren Clarke has been paired with Tiger Woods and Lee Westwood with Vijay Singh for the first two rounds tomorrow and Friday.

Westwood, back in the event for the first time since 2002, does not have to wait too long, teeing off at 10.49am.

But Clarke and Woods are in the third last group at 1.33pm - just ahead of Ernie Els, David Toms and Adam Scott.

Harrington starts at 9.27am with Fuzzy Zoeller and Angel Cabrera, while champion Phil Mickelson begins his title defence with American amateur champion Ryan Moore and Australian Stuart Appleby at 10.38am.

Jesper Parnevik, the flamboyant Swede whose colourful outfits may even out-dazzle Augusta National's azaleas, is last out in the field alongside big-hitting John Daly and Shigeki Maruyama, of Japan.

David Howell's debut sees him in the very first group at 8.05am, with Ian Woosnam, the European Ryder Cup captain, immediately behind. Sandy Lyle, another former winner in 1988 plays alongside Ryan Palmer and Australian Robert Allenby.

British amateur champion Stuart Wilson, from Scotland, partners five-time Open champion Tom Watson and former US Open champion Jim Furyk at 11.22am.

Organisers will have one eye on the weather today, with thunderstorms having been forecast for tomorrow.