Win or bust for Harrington

From Brian Keogh in Pittsburgh

Padraig Harrington hit Oakmont yesterday, determined not to settle for second best in the US Open.

After his shock missed cut at the Stanford St Jude Championship in Elvis Presley’s home town of Memphis, the Dubliner is far from 'All Shook Up.'

While his putting was well below par, the Dubliner knows that some weeks the ball simply won't drop.

And with his confidence still high after that breakthrough Irish Open win last month, Harrington is reaching for the ultimate prize in Pittsburgh.

He said: "Can I win at Oakmont? If you offered me second place right now, I’d say no.

“I'd rather finish 15th and have a chance of winning than finish second and have no chance of winning.

"There was a time when I came out on Tour, I thought ‘wow, I’ve finished top-10, didn’t I do well’.

“Nowadays, I don’t walk away when I’ve finished top-10 and not take satisfaction from it but I take more pleasure from the way I went about it and knowing that only for circumstances that are beyond your control, that could be a win."

In last year's US Open, Harrington finished fifth at Winged Foot when three closing pars would have given him victory.

Yet he feels far more positive about his game this time around after playing so well in the Masters at Augusta, where he eventually came home seventh.

As a professional sportsman, the European No 1 knows that he can convince himself that his destined to win - even if he’s not playing well.

But the important point is that he knows he’s good enough.

He explained: "If you believe something in your subconscious mind, you can convince yourself of anything. You can convince yourself you are going to win and, in equally, you can also convince yourself you are going to lose.

"I do believe the sub-conscious mind has that ability but I also believe that if I miss the cut this week it means I am not going to play well next week. Or, conversely, that missing the cut this week suggests I’ll be lucky next week.

"I am a professional sportsman. I cannot let myself be influenced by these things. If I am playing well or if I am not playing well, in both cases I have to convince myself that I can win."

At August this year, Harrington walked away convinced he could one day win the Masters.

But that belief is based on his performances and the quality of his play and not his finishing position on the leaderboard.

His rescue wood approach to the 15th might have ended up in the water. Yet Harrington takes strength from the fact that he hit exactly the shot he wanted to hit, even if it did come up an agonizing few yards short of glory.

He said: "When I was in contention at the Masters, I put it in the water at 15. If I was to accept that events dictate what I feel, I’d simply shrug and say ‘I’m an unlucky son of a gun’.

"But I take confidence out of hitting the shot that I wanted to hit on that occasion and I do know from historical events you can’t look on the result as the be-all and end-all but you can look at the process.

"Last year’s US Open was the biggest one for me. Like Muirfield in 2002, I was very comfortable. I think that probably was the best I’ve ever been on a golf course and I played the best I’ve ever played.

"But I found it very hard to emulate that afterwards. Whereas at the US Open and the Masters I went in with a process and did emulate it to a certain extent. So that’s where I am getting better."

Winning the Irish Open was a milestone in Harrington's career from a psychological viewpoint and the points out that at no time did he feel that he was going to throw it away.

He added: "The same stresses and hype go into the Irish Open as would go into a Major. That’s why I think I can handle the pressure of a Major.

“At no stage during the Irish Open did I think I was gong to lose. As a result, if I had lost it, it’d have come as a big shock to me. At no stage in that tournament did I prepare myself to lose. I was utterly convinced I was going to win."

Putting poorly and missing the cut in Memphis is not going to change Harrington's attitude at Oakmont this week, even if he has jettisoned the new-fangled Torpedo putter.

He said: "I didn’t have a good week on the greens in Memphis but I don’t walk away thinking I’m a bad putter. Put it like this, I’d suggest 95 per cent of players would swop with my putting.

"Some weeks they go in. Some weeks they don’t. You can hit a good putt and misread it. You know when you don’t see them going in.

"All through my career, when I’ve had to hole putts I get better. I’m a good putter but, like at Valderrama last year, I putted horrendously for 63 holes or something like that but when I had to hole them, they went in.

"The same at the Irish Open. I wasn’t feeling exactly on top of the world on the greens and yet, 13, 14, 15, I holed the putts."

Getting lucky in major is something that Harrington doesn't begrudge the likes of Ben Curtis or reigning US Open champion Geoff Ogilvy.

And he is convinced that there is still plenty of time to contend for many majors, starting in Pittsburgh this week.

He said: "They got themselves into the position where they won. I don’t begrudge anyone winning a Major and I don’t begrudge myself not having won a Major.

“I believe there’s plenty of time and if I get myself into contention often enough, I’ll be fine. You might put yourself into situations like these and win one in five. There’s nothing to say that someone’s one-in-five chance might turn up the first time."

Having decided not to make a pre-US Open trip to Oakmont, Harrington got his first look at the course yesterday afternoon.

But before heading out he insisted that he has to be careful not to overdo it after arriving 24 hours ahead of schedule because of his Memphis meltdown.

He said: "I can do as much damage by practicing as I can by playing. I need to see the course, but I have to watch what I do as I am seeing the course. That’s one of the reasons why I play the week before a Major."

After a family visit to Graceland on Saturday, Harrington hopes that Oakmont won't be Heartbreak Hotel.

With a little bit of luck, he could become The King.