Wednesday 18 October 2017

Padraig Harrington looks to revive good memories at Royal Birkdale

Padraig Harrington won the second of his Open titles at Royal Birkdale in 2008
Padraig Harrington won the second of his Open titles at Royal Birkdale in 2008

Padraig Harrington has nothing but fond memories of Royal Birkdale, but is glad to have got his reminiscing out of the way before returning to the scene of his second Open Championship triumph.

After beating current Masters champion Sergio Garcia in a play-off at Carnoustie in 2007, Harrington successfully defended his title at Birkdale the following year, a closing 69 securing a four-shot win over Ian Poulter.

Just a month later Harrington again edged out Garcia to win the US PGA Championship at Oakland Hills, in what would prove to be his last victory on a major worldwide tour for seven years.

Victory in the 2015 Honda Classic came as the Dubliner was about to drop out of the world's top 300 and he had drifted back to 153rd before winning the Portugal Masters in October 2016.

But despite undergoing neck surgery earlier this year and fearing his career could be over after being hit on the elbow by an amateur he was coaching, Harrington is determined not to simply make up the numbers at Birkdale.

The 45-year-old, who visited the course recently for a promotional day with one of his sponsors, said: " I didn't play the golf course but it was nice to get back, see people, see the golf course.

"I had experience twice of defending an Open and while I'm not this time, it's kind of like that. There's more stress. There's more things going on, more people wanting to stop you and talk to you; 'Do you remember that shot,' and 'I was there that day.'

"I got some of that out of the way and that's important if I want to be competitive the week of the Open. It's a long week and you want the least amount of things draining your energies.

"If you want to be strong on Sunday, you've got to take it easy. I would be guilty early on in my career of going all out to be ready for Thursday and sometimes by Sunday, really being out of energy.

" Sometimes you have to take that chance, rest up a little bit more on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday with the idea that you're going to be ready for Sunday."

Back in 2008 it appeared as if Harrington would not even start the defence of his title on Thursday after he suffered a wrist injury while practising at home the week before.

If it had been any other tournament the Dubliner would have withdrawn, but instead he sought out any treatment available, which even included a box of "warm light" in Phil Mickelson's hotel room.

"There wasn't anything I didn't try that week and Phil had a laser light with him, which I used," Harrington said. "In the evening I used to go around to Phil's hotel and we would spend an hour with the light on the wrist. I have one of them at home myself but I didn't have it with me at Birkdale.

"It's just a box with lights on it and it promises to do everything. It probably promises to grow your hair back, as well! It was non-invasive and it was kind of ideal. It's not like I could take any more massage or acupuncture.

"I had to go for something that was non-invasive and sticking a little warm light on it didn't do any harm."

Harrington could only manage an opening 74, but followed it with rounds of 68 and 72 in tough conditions to head into the final round two shots behind surprise leader Greg Norman.

And as Norman struggled to a closing 77, Harrington's brilliant 69 - including a tap-in eagle on the 17th - made him the first European player to win back-to-back Opens since James Braid in 1906.

" I think everybody likes Birkdale," Harrington added. "It's a solid golf course. There's no trickery about it. A lot of times, links can be very tricky. Luck can come into it a lot.

"At Birkdale the fairways and greens are pretty flat. It's all there in front of you and I think people appreciate that."

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