Thursday 18 January 2018

Harrington primed for assault on the Castle

Padraig Harrington showed his major quality
at the Olympic Club
Padraig Harrington showed his major quality at the Olympic Club

William S Callahan

DON'T be surprised if Padraig Harrington gives this week's Scottish Open at Castle Stuart a real Highland Fling.

Harrington emerged from the recent Irish Open with his confidence soaring after a performance that would have yielded far better than a share of seventh had he trusted his reading of the greens at Royal Portrush.

The Dubliner conceded that this was due to tiredness as he played his seventh tournament in eight weeks at the Irish Open and his fourth in succession, including an impressive fourth place in the US Open at Olympic.

After a much-needed week off, Harrington returns refreshed to tournament action on the Scottish Highlands coast today, while his flourishing form in recent months has left him hungry for an opportunity to really cut loose on the course ... so it should be fun to watch.

"I'm actually really keen to get out and play," he explained. "The US Open was good but there was a distinct improvement in my golf over the last two tournaments so I'm kind of keen to get out and really see what my game is like.

"At Portrush, I didn't hit too many slack shots at all, so when I look back I think maybe I should have been more aggressive.

"I'm hitting mostly good shots, so do I now take on more shots? Do I hit more drivers and go more aggressively at pin positions?" added Harrington, who should revel in the opportunity to really open his shoulders off the tee at Castle Stuart.

Like many others in this week's field, Harrington (40) once again is thrilled to play competitive links golf the week before the British Open.

"There's no substitute to playing competitively on a links before the Open," he said. "You can practise on the links and that helps, but it's only when you've got a card in your hand, just one go at it, that you pick up on the differences.

"It's the best preparation we can get for the Open, especially with the Irish Open also played on the links at Royal Portrush."

Naturally, Harrington is anxious not to tire himself out unnecessarily before next week's epic at Royal Lytham and St Annes on the Lancashire coast.

The Dubliner and Ireland's other British Open contenders -- defending champion Darren Clarke and fellow Ulstermen Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Michael Hoey -- have revelled in the strategic challenge of Lytham since their amateur days.

Harrington played his first British Open there as a rookie European Tour pro in 1996 and will be forever grateful to the R&A for placing him in a three-ball with eventual winner Tom Lehman and Mark McCumber.

"My Open debut at Lytham was just awesome," recalls Harrington, who tied 18th. "It was right up there among my best experiences in golf. The R&A were very generous with the draw and it was a spectacular 36 holes -- I played well and at 18 on Friday, I holed out from a greenside trap.

Excited

"An unbelievable cheer went up and the hairs stood up on the back of my neck. I've never been as excited on a golf course ... I even took my putter out of the bag before walking onto the green!"

Without a win in the US or Europe since August 2008, Harrington knows he needs one soon. However, his recent form has been so encouraging, he insists: "I'm in good shape and believe it's coming, so it doesn't have to happen this week or the week after."

World No 1 Luke Donald is the bookies' favourite to hang onto his Scottish Open title, as he did the BMW PGA crown at Wentworth in May, while Steve Stricker is fancied to complete back-to-back victories at the PGA Tour's John Deere Classic.

Harrington had three rounds in the 60s as he tied 14th with fellow Dubliner Paul McGinley in last year's truncated tournament at rain-lashed Castle Stuart, which, sadly, is a tad soggy once again.

Like Shane Lowry, Peter Lawrie, Damien McGrane and Gareth Maybin, McGinley's sights are set this week on the British Open berths which will go to the top two finishers not already exempt in Sunday's first five.

After skipping the French Open under doctor's advice to rest a swollen right knee, McGinley hopes to return to the form which saw him register three top-10s in his last four outings.

• JASON DAY has withdrawn from the British Open, choosing instead to stay home with his newborn son.

Scottish Open,

Live, Sky Sports 1/3, 10.30/3.30

John Deere Classic,

Live, Sky Sports 3, 8.0

Irish Independent

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