Harrington hungry to get on Swiss roll
IT'S like finding St Andrews or Lahinch 5,000 feet up in the Swiss Alps.
Padraig Harrington loves the ambience of Crans Montana, the ski resort which every September becomes the focal point of European golf.
It's uncertain if the course at Crans, with its small, hard greens and challenging run-offs, is the right place for this struggling Dub to get back on to the road to redemption.
Having three-time Major champion Harrington play here for the first time since 2000 is great for the Omega European Masters and he's enjoyed every minute of this week in the mountains... so far.
The crunch comes when Harrington steps on to the tee this morning and, after missing five of his last six cuts, he needs to click back into the sort of birdie-scoring form which would make him a contender once again.
Even a few days practising in the refreshing Alpine air will stand to him. Yet after turning 42 last Saturday and more than five years without a win on either the US or European Tours, Harrington's golf clock inevitably is ticking loudly.
"This is one of the nicest places to come and play golf," he enthused. "Indeed, it's one of the nicest places to come, full stop. The atmosphere at this tournament is lovely and it's one of the most enjoyable to play.
"The course is in the centre of the town and everyone seems to be into their golf here. You walk around the town and there are three caddie carts outside the pub because they haven't made it home.
"You can't go 10 yards without seeing a poster for the event. Every shop window has clubs and balls in it. It really is a nice atmosphere. Like a lot of links courses home, when the clubhouse is nearly in the town, it seems everyone is involved with golf, even if they don't play.
"I'm staying in a golf hotel and it has stunning views. There's a putting course in front of us and I'm going to have a game against my caddie (Ronan Flood) – it's the big match of the week!
"It really looks difficult too; there is a volcano hole and I don't know how you play it."
He's found the greens in Europe and the US difficult to handle in recent seasons, leading Harrington to take up the belly putter in May. This summer another of the rocks upon which his success was built, chipping, began to let him down.
Harrington missed the cut when he last played Crans in 2000 and decided it was not for him. In fairness, changes wrought by Seve Ballesteros in his 1999 redesign didn't receive universal acclaim.
"I found the changes just didn't suit me," the Dubliner explained. "I found I wasn't competitive on it so it wasn't somewhere I wanted to spend my limited weeks competing during the year.
"There hasn't been a huge amount of changes. There's been a lot of growth and the course is in much better condition. Maybe they'd a better summer because there's a lot more grass and it's a lot more playable now. Hopefully this week I'll be right back on track."
As for his prospects of turning the corner this week, Harrington said: "You always think this course is tougher than it really is.
"With the difficulty around the greens, you feel you are going to drop a few shots but, ultimately, the winner's going to shoot 16-under, so you've got to make those birdies. I hope it's me who'll get the breaks this week and do it."
His average of just under three birdies per round this year left Harrington 177th out of 185 on the US Tour, so he'll need a dramatic change of fortune to challenge this week. Maybe the heady Alpine air will help.
Conversely, Miguel Angel Jimenez (49) makes his 25th consecutive appearance in Crans. Among 10 top-10 finishes, the Spaniard counts victory in 2010, when his playing companion today, gifted Italian Manuel Manassero (20), was third on his Swiss debut.
Jimenez also posted the course-record 61 here and is a cumulative 161-under-par for all rounds played in Crans, suggesting these hills are alive for 'the Mechanic'.
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