Padraig Harrington got a massive Open Championship boost as he scorched into a six-shot lead in the Ladbrokes.com Irish PGA at The European Club.
But the Dubliner won’t get an easy ride when he takes on fellow Dubliner Philip Walton in a title showdown in the final round today.
Open champion Harrington came back from a shaky start to card a one-under par 70 and lead by six shots from Walton on level par as he builds up to next week’s Claret Jug defence at Royal Birkdale.
But former Ryder Cup ace ‘Walts’ is refusing to wave the white flag of surrender and even Harrington concedes that he will have to work hard to lift his fifth domestic crown.
Happy with his Open build-up, Harrington said: “It is not a foregone conclusion. The fact is, Philip or anybody else could have a good day and I could have an average day.
“I would hope that I can win from this position. But if it was a foregone conclusion, they could give me the trophy now.
“I could wake up in the morning with a sore neck, you never know. Even golfing wise it is not too hard to go out there and shoot 75 in reasonable conditions. I was two over after four today.”
Walton, 46, has lost none of his skill with the driver but knows that he will have to putt the lights out if he is to beat Harrington and become a five-time Irish PGA winner himself.
After two bogeys and 16 pars in a 73, Walton said: “ I’d be happy if I could start holing a few putts. I played good today, solid, real good. I was two over after 10 holes and I shouldn’t have been.
“I dropped one on eight, where I spun back off the green after pitching it 12 foot from the hole. And I hit a lovely drive up the 10th, hit a wedge to the front edge and three-putted. The rest were pars.
“Is six shots too many? I’ll give him a run. He’s not going to come here and get it easy.”
Harrington had to work hard to beat Walton by a shot when they went head to head for the Irish PGA title at St Margarets in 2004.
Three ahead starting the day, Harrington bogeyed the second and fourth to see his lead cut to a single shot.
But he rifled a 181-yard seven iron to three feet at the seventh for a timely birdie and while he bogeyed the eighth he pulled clear of the field on the back nine.
An eagle three at the 13th, where he hit a five-iron to eight feet, put him five clear and he turned the screw by converting a 15 footer at the last.
Happy that his game is almost ready for the Open, Harrington said: “I made a slow enough start and I was a couple over so it was nice to comeback from that.
“I was trying hard to get it back under par which was the target for the day and I was close enough to that.
“There wasn't too much wind but enough to make you think on every shot. So this is ideal preparation.
“I am certainly not unhappy. I am looking forward to doing a bit of work with Bob Rotella next week and just settling down a few issues in my own head. This week has been good and I would like to be more like this all the time.”
Waterville's David Higgins is eight shots off the pace alongside Eamonn Darcy (73) and Robert Giles (75) on eight over par after a best of the day 69.
Ladbrokes.com Irish PGA Championship, The European Club (Par 71)
After 54 holes
213 P Harrington (Unattached) 75, 68, 70.
219 P Walton (Unattached) 73,73,73;
221 D Higgins (Waterville) 80,72,69; E Darcy (Le Salle) 75,73,73; R Giles (Greenore) 73,73,75;
222 J Dignam (Slade Valley) 78,72,72;
223 G Robinson (Coollattin) 77,73,73; E Brady (Clontarf GC) 74, 72, 77.
224 W O’Callaghan (Carrighdoun GR) 75,76,73;
226 D Mortimer (Team Ireland) 74,78,74; B McGovern (Headfort) 76,74,76; D Mooney (Nevada Bobs) 80,71,75;
228 E Tracey (Ballina) 76,78,74; M Staunton (Black Bush) 81,74,73;
230 S Thornton (Royal Co Down) 77,77,76; J Kelly (St Margaret’s) 76,75,79; M Collins (Mallow DR) 72,77,81;
232 G Burke (Curragh) 78,77,77;
234 D McNamara (Portmarnock) 82,76,76; C McVitty (Bundoran) 78,78,78; P Martin (Riverside Academy) 79,74,81;
235 A Murray (Greystones) 84,75,76; J Dwyer (Ashbourne) 78,81,76; J Langan (Leopardstown Golf Ctr) 79,78,78;
237 J Geraghty (Old Conna) 83,78,76; J Heggarty (Claremorris) 80,76,81;
238 C Mallon (Narin & Portnoo) 81,79,78; B Kelleher (Golf Works Cork) 84,73,81; G Lunney (Naas) 76,78,84; I Kerr (Carlow DR) 82,74,82;
239 J Foster (Greenacres) 81,79,79; E O’Connor (Kilkenny) 71,88,80; M Mulryan (Athenry) 84,73,82;
240 L Walker (Dundalk) 82,79,79; DP (Royal Portrush) 82,77,81; T Higgins (TH Golf) 75,81,84; S Deegan (Spawell) 79,74,87;
241 J Fay (Co Meath) 80,80,81; F Howley (Carton House) 87,73,81; B Kerley (Greenlife GR) 86,74,81; P Jones (Coollattin) 78,80,83; K O’Neill (Co Sligo) 75,81,85;
242 D Hughes (Portadown) 82,78,82; K Grealy (Athlone) 81,79,82;
243 D Byrne (Unattached) 78,80,85;
244 M McTernan (Co Sligo) 80,78,86; J Bolger (KilkennY) 77,80,87;
245 J Murray (Malahide) 79,81,85; ;
246 P Hanna (Fortwilliam) 81,80,85;
NR N Graham (Kirkistown Castle).