Sunday 18 March 2018

'This week will tell me if I can land Claret Jug' - Harrington

Harrington honing links game at Scottish Open ahead of return to venue that lit fuse for glory run

Padraig Harrington enjoys an ice-cream while signing autographs at the Pro-Am for the Scottish Open
Padraig Harrington enjoys an ice-cream while signing autographs at the Pro-Am for the Scottish Open

Karl MacGinty

MUIRFIELD is where the penny first dropped for Padraig Harrington and the Dubliner discovered he really could win a Major.

So there could hardly be a better British Open venue for Harrington than the world-famous East Lothian links as he bids next week to restore his Major-winning credentials.

Remarkably, given the frustration Harrington has endured in five barren years on the US and European Tours, the 41-year-old's faith in his ability to prevail at golf's greatest championships remains strong. It shone as bright as the glaring summer sun over Inverness this week as Harrington prepared for today's first round of the Aberdeen Assets Management Scottish Open on the links at Castle Stuart.

Asked at what point during the build-up to the British Open might he know that he can challenge for and possibly win the Claret Jug, Harrington replied: "Sunday night here!

"If I finish up on Sunday content with my game, I know I can win next week," he added. "The last thing I want to be doing is walking away from this tournament trying to find something on Monday morning.

"You don't want to go through a Major trying to find it. It's been done but it's very rare. It's all about getting your work done and being content leading into the tournament the week before.

"For me, playing a tournament this week is the only way I can get a good indicator of the state of my game."

Harrington first acquired faith in his ability to win on golf's grand slam stage when the Open last visited Muirfield in 2002 and he finished fifth, just one tantalising stroke outside a four-man play-off which was won by Ernie Els.

Believing he needed birdie at the last to have any chance of winning, Harrington took driver off the final tee and paid for this act of aggression when his ball flew into a dreadful lie in the left fairway bunker, leading to bogey.

Yet with the frustration of that close call came new confidence in his ability to become only the second Irish golfer to win a Major. Harrington's breakthrough came at Carnoustie in 2007, 60 years after Fred Daly at Hoylake.

As he retained his Open title at Royal Birkdale in 2008 and followed up with a formidable PGA Championship victory at Oakland Hills three weeks later, it was clear that Harrington had found golf's Holy Grail.


Yet any hope of putting his knowledge, confidence and experience to the ultimate use late on Sunday afternoon at the Majors would be stymied first by some inopportune swing changes, then by the banning of box grooves from January 2010 and, in recent seasons, by a crippling loss of trust on the greens.

These days, the swing seems to be functioning well under the tutelage of coach Pete Cowen and, if Harrington consistently complains about his wedge play, at least his move to the belly putter, albeit controversial, has offered him some relief on the greens.

For sure, it has been five months since he last completed four consecutive sub-par rounds at a tournament. However, Castle Stuart, with its wide-open fairways, offers Harrington a relatively simple refresher course in seaside golf, giving him the perfect opportunity to go to the fairest Open venue of them all with his morale high.

Given this opportunity to play competitive links golf the week before the Open, it's surprising that only two of the world's top-20 players, Phil Mickelson and defending Open champion Ernie Els, have entered the Scottish Open.

Clearly, Graeme McDowell is not alone in his belief that Castle Stuart, despite its aesthetic appeal, is a little too "one-dimensional" and "wide-open off the tee" to serve as a decent pre-Open test. Like Rory McIlroy, McDowell took the chance this week to familiarise himself with Muirfield.

In all, 10 Irish golfers tee it up at Castle Stuart, with Shane Lowry, freed from the pressure of carrying the home nation's hopes into fifth place at the recent Irish Open, well fancied to do something special this weekend on a course he enjoys.

Tractor power drew Louis Oosthuizen all the way to Illinois for the John Deere Classic the weekend before the Open. While many Tour colleagues frequent Ferrari, Porsche or Lamborghini showrooms, Oosthuizen's automotive passion has always been for John Deere tractors.

The South African, a keen farmer, bought himself one after lifting the Claret Jug at St Andrews in 2010 and he has the latest John Deere model, the R450 Windrower, on order for his 150-acres spread back home.

Oosthuizen and his mum, no less, even took a giant combine harvester for a spin during a family visit this week to the manufacturer's plant in East Moline, not far from TPC Deere Run. Little wonder he's widely fancied to bring in the trophy this weekend!

Scottish Open, Live, Sky Sports 1, 10.30

John Deere Classic, Live, Sky Sports 1, 8.0

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