Padraig Harrington with begin his Open defence on a high after claiming his fifth Irish PGA title and his first win for more than EIGHT MONTHS.
The Open champion got the perfect send off for Royal Birkdale when he cruised to a four-shot win over veteran Philip Walton at The European Club.
Eight shots clear with three holes to play, the Dubliner had a late wobble when he bogeyed the 16th and then doubled the last for a one-over 72 and a one-over par total in the Ladbrokes.com sponsored event.
But despite his late blip, he was delighted to get that winning feeling again and reckoned he could not have asked for better build up to his Claret Jug defence.
Without a win since October's Hassan Trophy in Morocco, Harrington said: "Winning is always a nice feeling. It is a habit and not a bad habit to stick with.
"The whole week was very satisfactory. It’s been an excellent exercise and I couldn't have asked for a better week in preparation for the Open.”
Walton finished second on five-over par after closing with a 70 to beat Harrington by two shots on the final day.
But Harrington wasn’t too worried about the margin of victory and he will spend the next few days sorting out a minor problem in his set up and working on his short game.
He said: “My alignment was off this week and I think that was probably because of the neck injury I had last week.
“It meant that I had to concentrate a little harder, which is a good thing. But I should have that sorted out by next week.
“It was a good exercise in focus this week. I got to hit a few more short game shots around the greens and that is good.
“I played nice golf at times and hit some nice iron shots in close. I putted lovely all week as well and I'm very happy with that end of things. It’s been a very positive week.”
Harrington made an eagle and 14 birdies in four rounds at the European Club but also had 11 bogeys and three double bogeys.
And while he was disappointed to drop three shots in his last three holes, he took it as a timely reminder that he must keep his concentration at all times this week.
He said: “When I birdied 15, I sort of lost my concentration for the last couple of holes. I'll have to watch for that, you always have to pay attention.
“But in terms of my golf it has been great for me to play all the links shots I will need at Birkdale in a competitive environment.
“Take clubbing as an example. At one stage you are hitting a nine iron 170 yards and on another hole you are trying to hit a six iron 145 yards.
“It is all about picking the right club and the right shot and the right shape at the right time. You have to judge the run out on the ball when you are around the greens and how the rough is reacting when you are chipping.
“You can’t tell unless you are really trying to get up and down. It is no use if you can always drop another ball and hit it.”
Last year Harrington reckoned that his Irish PGA win laid the foundation for his Open victory at Carnoustie.
But he does not believe his latest domestic success will give him a one-stroke lead over the field at Birkdale.
He said: "No. I don't think it puts me a shot ahead of anybody else but it will certainly save me shots and make my golf better next week. I don't think I'll be giving handicaps to anyone.
“I have still got to work a bit on my alignment. My shoulders were a little open and that is why I was struggling in a left to right wind. I am pretty much on top of that. Really besides that I won't be working on anything.”
After coming through Open qualifying at West Lancs last Monday and Tuesday, Walton was exhausted at the finish after playing six rounds of links golf in a row.
He said: “I was swinging all over the place there at the end and I'll have a few days rest now. I’ll be at Birkdale on Tuesday and I am really looking forward to it.”
And Harrington believes straight-hitting Walton can do well in his first Major appearance for ten years.
He said: "Philip played lovely golf as always. I'd like to hit as straight as he hits it. It is a big bonus for him. Birkdale is not a long hitter's course and he is very comfortable off the tee.
“That is one of the big features at Birkdale as Mark O’Meara proved when he won there in ‘98. You just want to be able to hit it very straight, over and over.”