By Brian Keogh
The European Club will come of age today when world number 10 Padraig Harrington leads a 120-strong field in search of the Irish Professional Championship.
But while course creator Pat Ruddy regards the arrival of the Irish PGA as the completion of a “full house” that comprises the amateur men’s and ladies’ Close Championships, the deck has been stripped somewhat.
Officials from the Irish Region of the PGA have decided that the cream of Irish professional golf will not be required to negotiate the full 7,355 yards of a par-71 test that brought tears to the eyes of the country’s top amateurs.
In yesterday’s pro-am, which was supported by the likes of Dermot Desmond and JP McManus, the course measured just under 7,100 yards and with bad weather forecast for later in the week, it is likely to play around 6,900 yards when the action gets underway.
Harrington certainly didn’t find it easy in clam conditions as he went to the turn in three-over par yesterday, driving out bounds and then three-putting for a triple bogey seven at the fearsome 470-yard seventh, where the tee had been moved forward some 35 yards.
Indeed, the Dubliner is under no illusions about the difficulty of the test ahead and while he is happy to carry the mantle of favourite, he knows that since his Irish Open victory in Limerick last May, his performances have been well below par.
Declaring his left knee “100 percent” after some recent niggles, Harrington hopes to sharpen his mental game this week and head to Carnoustie with his fourth Irish Championship in the bag.
He is expected to win, Harrington warned: “It is not that straightforward. I have to play decent and if somebody else has a good week they will be hard to beat. There are plenty of players capable. I don't see it as as foregone conclusion in any shape of form.
“The course is in great condition and it is always a tough course. It is as soft as I have ever seen it and it is not playing too long at the moment. But obviously if the weather changes, that will change a lot of things.
“It is perfect preparation for the Open next week. Everything about the course is very similar to Carnoustie texture wise in terms of the greens and fairways. I'd take four 71s (level par) right now. But it is not going to be easy here.
"I know what's missing in my game at the moment. Since the Irish Open I haven't performed well at all. I couldn't pick anything in my golf swing that I would want to changed at the moment, it is just routine, shot selection and focus generally. So this is a very important part of my preparation for the Open."
Ruddy agrees that the winning score could be in the region of level par and after cutting back the rough he has no sympathy for the players who complain about the heavy stuff this week.
“I have sympathy for everyone in a championship,” he said. “But the champion won't win by losing golf balls and being 50 yards off the centre line.
“It is a wide golf course compared to the Irish Close last year - nearly 10 yards wider on average. Around the greens we have eased things too so that if a player skips through the back of a green he is not up to his knees.
“I will be very surprised if anyone does four sub par rounds - but not a bit upset. On Sunday morning I will have a fry either way.”