Padraig Harrington has the driving ambition to avoid disaster in a car crash Open Championship and snatch his third Claret Jug and his fourth major title.
Heavy rain and high winds wrecked the final practice day at the Home of Golf and with bad weather set to ravage the Old Course over the weekend, the Dubliner looks like a man with a winning formula.
The Irish ace, 38, battled his way through tough conditions to win the Open at Carnoustie in 2007 and at Royal Birkdale two years ago.
And after watching Graeme McDowell survive a terror-filled final round to win the US Open last month, five time Open winner Tom Watson sees Harrington as they kind of player who can handle the pressure coming down the stretch.
Recalling Harrington’s closing 69 to win at Birkdale, Watson said: “One of the great rounds of golf was Pádraig’s final round at Birkdale. That was a great round of golf, you don’t know how good that round of golf was.
“I remember how solidly he hit the ball and how closely he hit the ball to the hole on that tough golf course in those terrible, tough, windy conditions. He just far and away surpassed the field.”
The weather was so bad at St Andrews yesterday that the R&A decided to cancel the four-hole Champions Challenge with Harrington one of 26 former winners scheduled to tee it up.
Conditions are expected to be reasonable today but the weathermen are predicting stiff winds and heavy rain tomorrow, followed by light rain and high winds at the weekend.
Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson are the bookies’ favourites but the weather is right up Harrington’s street and he’s already proved that he can withstand the kind of major pressure that others find impossible.
Watson said: “I think it really boils down to handling the pressure. Look at the US Open at Pebble Beach, it was like a NASCAR race that had a wreck on the final lap.
“There was smoke and oil and it was a mess and all off a sudden, here come the car that kind of winds its way through that and bingo, Graeme comes through as the winner.
“That’s the type of pressure that people are under in a major championship and that’s what causes those wrecks.”
Harrington will be sandwiched between the oldest and youngest players in the field when he joins 60 year old Watson and 18 year old Japanese sensation Ryo Ishikawa for the first two rounds.
And while he knows an Open victory at St Andrews would put him in the same league as golfing immortals like Woods, Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus and Seve Ballesteros, he’s determined to leave those thoughts for the rocking chair.
Harrington said: “If I happened to win this one, it would be natural to say at the end of my career ‘I’ve three Opens and one of them came at St Andrews.
“At times you can maybe expect a little bit too much or push a little bit too hard. But it’s nice to have won a couple of them, and I should try and be a little bit more relaxed about trying to win a third one.”
Harrington finished tied for 20th in the Open at St Andrews in 2000 but was forced to pull out of the 2005 staging because of the death of his father Paddy.
He may never get another chance to win an Open at the world’s most famous golf course but he will be banishing thoughts of his late father to concentrate on the job in hand.
He said: “I’d be trying to edge it the other way and not give any significance to it at all. It’s tough enough out there without bringing any other emotion into it.
“I’m not going to try to say ‘this is more special’ or anything like that. I might say it afterwards but beforehand it’s a matter of treating it as a normal event.”
Rory McIlroy is convinced that long hitting is the key to avoiding the 112 bunkers at St Andrews after watcing Tiger Woods win in 2000 without finding sand all week.
But Harrington believes that length is not a factor and he’s looking to his short game, especially his wedge play, as the vital ingredient.
Harrington said: “I don’t know how anybody would class St Andrews as a course for the longer-hitter. It’s one of the shortest golf courses on the rota. It’s one of the courses that you can manoeuvre around and use the wind to make up the difference between a long and short hitter.
“The right ball flight gets far more done in St Andrews than somebody with speed, who can hit it. If it’s coming down with too much spin, it’s not running.
“Of all the golf courses in the world, by my counting, you’re looking at certainly 30 approach shots with wedges during the week into abominable pin positions.
“I’d like to be a good wedge player this week rather than anything else. Landing it on the money is your only option.”