Harrington's restored faith makes him solid bet
Dubliner backs the bookies' view that he can be in Open mix, says James Corrigan
Pádraig Harrington is the brother of a bookmaker and a qualified accountant. So he attaches more relevance to the betting lists than most in the locker room. And when he looks at the odds for the Open Championship he likes what he sees.
For the first time since that staggering period of 2007 and 2008 when he was winning his three Majors, Harrington is among the leaders in the market. Indeed, only Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood are rated better chances for Lytham by the men with the satchels. It says much about Harrington's mood that he draws confidence from their restored faith.
"I do pay attention to what the bookies are thinking as they really do know," said Harrington. "I always think that if you're looking for a good indicator of form, they're very rarely wrong. So I'm fourth or fifth favourite and that's good -- I'll take that. Bookies are sharp people."
Perhaps one doesn't require razor-like judgment to recognise Harrington's upward curve in this season's Majors. At the Masters he finished eighth and so recorded his first major top-10 finish in almost three years and at the US Open he eventually came fourth after needing a birdie at the 18th to force Webb Simpson into a play-off.
Since the Olympic Club, he has contended in both the Travelers Championship in Connecticut and the Irish Open at Royal Portrush. After being largely written off, he is again being "written about". It seems the radical alterations are at last coming to fruition. All he needs is that win to drown out the remaining mutterings of the naysayers.
"I don't need the results to prove to myself that the direction I have taken is the correct one," said Harrington, who stunned golf by dumping Bob Torrance, his long-time coach, last year. "But it is valid to say that you need wins every so often in order to ease the external pressure. Yes, a victory would be important for me. And I believe it's coming."
In truth, for someone of Harrington's talent, it is ridiculously overdue. The 41-year-old's last victory on either of the game's two main tours came at the 2008 USPGA Championship at Oakland Hills. The word in Detroit that Sunday night was that this third win in six Majors would send Harrington motoring to a new level. Instead, Harrington opened up the tool kit and bizarrely started fixing. Torrance, like everyone else, wondered why. "To get better," was always Harrington's response. Maybe only now will we begin to fathom what on earth he was chasing.
Not that Harrington will rub anyone's noses in it, certainly not that of Torrance, a man who he says "has been like a father figure to me". It was a tough call to make and since doing so Harrington has found the phone calls hard to make as well.
"I've been in touch with Bob [since the split] but not a massive amount," he said. "It's awkward. I suspect and I hope that Bob is happy to see me playing well, but how does that reflect on him and how does it reflect on me? But it's not that one man was right and one man was wrong. I just needed a different perspective. I miss Bob's company and I pray the more I see him, the easier it will get. Hopefully, I'll see him at the Scottish Open."
Harrington will arrive at Castle Stuart tomorrow with his new coach Pete Cowen and performance coach Dave Alred, the long-time kicking guru to Jonny Wilkinson who has helped Luke Donald conquer the world rankings.
The Highlands will be as happy to see Harrington as Harrington will be to see the Highlands. For so long he urged the European Tour to switch from Loch Lomond and last year he was finally granted his wish.
"As beautiful as Loch Lomond is, I told the European Tour, 'Look, I want to play links golf that week and if you move the Scottish to a links, I'll be there'," said Harrington. "They've done that, and I couldn't see myself not playing in the Scottish Open now. It's ideal preparation."
To Harrington perhaps, but there will be a number of high-profile absences this week which should dismay the sponsors, Aberdeen Asset Management. Donald defends his crown but Lee Westwood, Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose and Graeme McDowell are not returning after last year. Harrington finds it hard to understand why. "I know some people don't like playing the week before a Major, but there's no substitute for playing links golf," he said.
"You cannot compare how far the ball goes on a soft parkland course to how it goes off links turf. Yes, you can go and practise on your own at a links and that helps. But it's only when you have one go at it and a card in your hand that you really pick up what the differences are."
Still, at least that should make Harrington's job this week easier. He claims his mission is not so much to win as contend. Although he will head to the Fylde coast reassuring himself with the positives whatever the result. "If anything, winning the Scottish would make it harder at Lytham," he said. "Winning takes a lot out of you. There's a big high, followed by an inevitable low. But then, if I do win at Castle Stuart, I will be declaring exactly why it's going to help me win the Open. Let's face it, however I perform, I'll be saying little fibs when it comes to the week of Lytham, just to get my brain in the right place. So don't believe me."
Not even for betting purposes? Well, Harrington does see one stand-out punting opportunity. "What's Lee? 14/1?" he said. "I think Lee is almost guaranteed to get in the top three at Lytham; so that's got to be the each-way bet. But then, someone told me I'm 24/1 with one bookie. I'd say that's pretty reasonable." In other words, pile on. Harrington's ready to go fourth and multiply.
About time, too.
Sunday Indo Sport