Confident Harrington returns to happy hunting ground
Barely four months after undergoing neck surgery, Padraig Harrington says he regards himself as a contender heading into The Open this week.
The Irish two-time winner of the Claret Jug is returning to a happy hunting ground – having become Champion Golfer of the Year when the Championship was last held at Royal Birkdale in 2008 – and is coming into form at just the right time.
“I'm amazed you have to ask that question of me,” he gently berated his questioner. “I will always go back to the Shane Lowry quote, ‘I think I'm going to win the week I'm not playing’. Clearly I think I'm a credible contender on any golf course, but bring me to a links golf course, no doubt about it. It gives me an advantage to be on a links course, for sure.”
Of the four major championships, The Open has proved to be the one where players in their 40s (and even 50s) have been able to compete on equal terms with the young bucks, something Harrington puts down to the fact that links golf does not necessarily favour the long hitters.
“Obviously an Open Championship can be played by a shorter hitter,” he explained. “As you get older, you get shorter relative to the field, (but) a guy hitting the right ball flight will hit it further into the wind - 160 miles an hour efficient ball flight is going to go further than 180 miles an hour, inefficient. That's why an older guy can compete with the younger guys.
“Plus experience. A lot of the younger guys are physically gifted, but they don't have the experience with links golf. Assuming decent, tough enough conditions, it's a tournament for experience. Everybody can compete, short and long hitters. It's not one dimensional.”
Asked to reflect on the successful defence of his Open title at Birkdale in 2008, Harrington surprisingly cited injury as a stroke of good fortune. “I got lucky in 2008,” he explained. “I came into the tournament and I was injured. And it just took a lot of the expectations off. I was able to do all the stuff that you have to do as defending champion and have time to do it. So because I wasn't playing practice rounds that week, I basically freed up a lot more time. So there was a lot less stress.
“The week turned out to be a gruelling, tough week (because of adverse weather conditions) and I played the least amount of golf. So probably I was the freshest guy on the golf course Thursday morning … and certainly the freshest come Sunday.”
Can he repeat the feat this week? He has little doubt that he can.