Harrington lifted by cold comfort of conditions
PEBBLE BEACH was like home from home for the Irish yesterday as it shivered under cloudy skies, and the cold weather is expected to continue throughout the week, bringing a broad smile to the face of Padraig Harrington.
Okay, he'll have to go out and buy a few woolly jumpers but Harrington is revelling in the rare opportunity to play the US Open on a golf course and in conditions so strongly reminiscent of the Irish seaside in high summer.
Harking back to 2000, when he came home in fifth as Tiger Woods lapped the US Open field, Harrington recalled: "It seemed to be warmer and windier then and it seemed to be firmer. At the moment, it's like Irish weather out there ... it's very pleasant."
Few Major championship venues seem better suited to Harrington's strengths than Pebble Beach at this year's US Open.
With great emphasis on discipline, especially with approach shots to treacherously small and hard greens, and a high premium likely to be placed on wedge play out of the tangled rough that surrounds them, Harrington's vast experience, mental strength and renowned short game should stand to him.
"I love the golf course," he enthused. "This is a good golf course for me, a good challenge, and any time we get a windy golf course, I'm happy.
"It's a really tough course around the greens. It's a thinker's golf course because you've got to be very smart about your approach shots because you can't short-side yourself."
Harrington hasn't won on Tour since that famous August Sunday in 2008, when he blitzed Sergio Garcia in the US PGA at Oakland Hills, and he agreed he was desperate to get back into the winner's enclosure.
"Absolutely," he said. "This is my sixth Major since then. When you win events like that, you want to get out there and win another one and it feel like a pretty long time, even if it's really not that many Majors."
Though his right knee still "needs minding, it needs me to ice it and get physio on it and to do my exercises and all that sort of stuff" since key-hole surgery 22 days ago, Harrington insisted: "It does not affect my golf."
If the Dubliner's physical condition is fine, he conceded his recent form has not been so encouraging. "Yet I've probably shown better form coming into this Major than any of the three I've won," added Harrington.
"It takes a lot to win a Major. It's not as easy as clicking your fingers. Recently, I've probably played a little bit better on the range than the golf course and I'm looking for something to fall into place and get me across the line this week. I'm hopeful rather than expectant."
Harrington yesterday played the back nine yesterday with Waterford's US Open debutant Kevin Phelan (19). It's been quite a week for the youngster, who spent much of his early childhood in his father John's home town before the family moved to Florida eight years ago.
Phelan, an amateur who battled his way through local and sectional qualifying, played 18 holes on Monday with 2003 US Open champion Jim Furyk and last year's runner-up Ricky Barnes.
Furyk (40) offered three pieces of fatherly advice to the youngster, first and foremost "that he belongs here, that he fought for his spot and earned it -- nobody gave it to him.
"I also told him to make sure he had fun. At that age, I'd probably have tried so hard, I'd have forgotten to have a good time," added Furyk.
"The third part was not to wear himself out, to treat the US Open like he would his normal college event and look around and learn because the best players in the world are here this week."
Barnes, meanwhile, could easily relate to the youngster, as he too made his US Open debut as a 19-year-old amateur at Pebble Beach in 2000.
Harrington tees it up in tomorrow's first round with Phil Mickelson and US PGA-winner YE Yang but most attention will focus on Tiger Woods' first competitive round at Pebble in eight years.
Woods, who plays with last Sunday's winner in Memphis, Lee Westwood, and Ernie Els, the man he left a record 15 shots behind in second place in 2000, said the travails of recent months in his private life have not affected his enthusiasm for the game.
"I love it, I love playing," he insisted. "And I love practising and can't ever see that changing. But if it ever does and I start not wanting to go get ready or I'm not ready to play, then I've got to get the hell out ... I won't be here."
Despite a remarkable tie for fourth place on his comeback at the US Masters, Tiger's game is nowhere near the same level as it was 10 years ago.
Yet he's cast off the hangdog look we saw at Quail Hollow and the neck injury that forced him to walk off after six holes on Sunday at Sawgrass.
And there was a note of defiance in his voice as he dismissed a question about the state of his marriage.
"That's none of your business," he retorted sharply, showing there's fight in the old Tiger yet.