Padraig Harrington claims that he will not be greatly perturbed if he fails to apply the finishing touch to his incredible season by winning the Order of Merit for the second time at Valderrama this week, writes Brian Keogh at Valderrama.
But the truth is that the Dubliner would love to emulate the great Christy O’Connor Snr, winner of the Harry Vardon Trophy in 1961 and 1962, by raising that coveted piece of silverware for the second time in three years in the final edition of the Volvo Masters at the storied Spanish track on Sunday night.
To achieve his goal, Harrington must win the season-ending event and hope that Order of Merit leader Robert Karlsson fails to finish second. A Harrington victory would also end the hopes of third placed Lee Westwood and fourth ranked Miguel Angel Jiménez, while anything less would bring pocket calculators into the equation.
Harrington’s big advantage is that the Volvo Masters is an event with a Major championship feel and by playing down his chances, the Dubliner is applying the formula he used in the Open and US PGA Championship, where a wrist injury in the former and severe physical fatigue in the latter, helped him easy the burden of expectation and lift both titles.
The triple Major champion said earlier this week that he was bringing a Major Championship approach to the Volvo Masters. The golf course is also of Major championship stature and with cold and windy weather forecast, it will play ever inch of its 6,988 yards following heavy recent rain.
“The golf course is probably playing as long as I've ever seen it play,” Harrington said. “And it looks like it's going to be a very tough test ahead. The rough is definitely heavier this year, probably than we've ever seen.”
Karlsson has transformed himself as a player over the past two years and shot up from 41st to sixth in the world this season on the back of two victories and ten top-ten finishes.
Three of those top-tens came in the Major championships and the 39-year-old Swede attributes his transformation from a temperamental, streaky player into a model of consistency to a change in his mental approach.
“I’m not wasting a lot of energy on bad shots and I’m not wasting a lot of energy on bad rounds,” Karlsson said, explaining that while threw away a four-stroke final round lead in BMW PGA at Wentworth, he was able to put it behind him and finish second in the Wales Open the following week.
“In the past I would have been pissed off. I would have wasted two days of being really, really angry and got to the Welsh tournament and felt very, very disappointed. I would not have been able to leave that week behind,” he said. “It’s tough to play well when there’s so much up-and-down and you judge yourself so much from results.”
Divorcing performance from results is a trait that Harrington has turned into an art form over the past few seasons and Karlsson admits that he must be careful not to get sucked into a matchplay style showdown with his rivals this week.
He said: “If Padraig wins, it is going to take a fantastic week from me because this is a hard golf course with a really good field. If he wins, I need to finish second, so I have a tough task in hand.
“My focus is going to be to do my best this week and I will see on Sunday if it is going to be enough. If I start playing matchplay against Padraig and Westwood, I think we are going to put ourselves in a lot of trouble.”
Yet while Karlsson has been incredibly consistent this season, he has played 22 events compared to just 13 by Harrington and admits that the playing field has been far from level.
“It’s a bit unfair,” he said. “It’s like Manchester United playing Arsenal and one has to play 13 matches and the other 22. It’s not really a fair judgement of the season but if I win it, I’m not going to complain.”
Of the four contenders for the Order of Merit, Westwood is the only one who has yet to win this year. But he will take the Order of Merit if he wins on Sunday and Karlsson finishes no better than fourth while Jiménez can become the first Spaniard to win the Harry Vardon Trophy since Seve Ballesteros in 1991 if he is victorious and Karlsson finishes no better than 39th.
The event also marks the end of a record-setting season for Irish professional golf that brought two Majors and an unprecedented eight European Tour titles. The seven-strong Irish challenge presented by Harrington, Darren Clarke, Graeme McDowell, Paul McGinley, Peter Lawrie, Damien McGrane and Rory McIlroy is the biggest in the 21-year history of the Volvo Masters.