By Brian Keogh
Padraig Harrington will be searching for more than just his fourth Irish Professional Championship at The European Club this week.
Since he captured the Irish Open at Adare Manor, the Dubliner has missed two cuts and finished no higher than 24th in five tournament starts.
A lowly 51st at the K Club last week, he admits that he will the searching for his focus and concentration over four rounds at Brittas Bay in Co Wicklow.
But the world No 10 also knows that he cannot afford to get complacent on a course that he believes will provide him with the best possibile preparation for next week's Open Championship at Carnoustie.
"I know what's missing in my game at the moment," Harrington said as he compiled a two-over par 73 in yesterday's Pro-Am. "Since I won 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 and shot selection and focus generally.
"I don't mind the pressure of being expected to win. I can handle that responsibility. But is not straightforward. I have to play decent and if somebody else has a good week they will be hard to beat.
"I don't see it as as foregone conclusion in any shape of form. I agree that if I go on to win it, I won't exactly be getting too many pats on the back saying, 'Gee that was a great win.' But that is not the way it works in golf.
"I will have to play well on a very stern test. If I was playing on a slightly easier golf course I would know that I would be there or thereabouts at the end of the week. But this course will give a bigger separation of the field than most golf courses."
The European Club measures 7,355 yards off the back stakes but Irish PGA officials cut that yardage to 7,100 yards in calm conditions yesterday.
With bad weather forecast for later in the week, it is likely to be play less than 7,000 yards for a 120-strong field made up largely of club professionals.
Harrington is the man to beat but Waterville's David Higgins, who qualified for the Open yesterday and will play with him for the first two rounds, outgunned the Dubliner in the finals of the Irish Close and South of Ireland championships in 1994.
Philip Walton, Michael Hoey, Irish Region No 1 Simon Ward and defending champion David Mortimer are all capable of contending too.
But Harrington, who declaring his left knee to be “100 percent” after some recent niggles, knows the course as well as anybody as reckons that four level par 71s would be a good return.
He said: "The course is in great condition, super. The weather forecast is tough for the week but I feel good about it. It is always a tough course. It is as soft as I have ever seen it - as soft as it would be in the winter.
"It is not playing too long at the moment and I didn't hit my first driver today until the 10th. 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.
"The grasses are the same the pace of the greens will probably be pretty similar. The look of the place and the wind. I'd take four 71s (level par) right now. It is not going to be easy here."
Course designer and owner Ruddy has cut back the rough lining the fairways to make sure that there is no repeat of the carnage seen at last year's Irish Amateur Close, when the qualifying mark fell at 23 over par.
Ruddy said: "It is a wide golf course compared to the Irish Close last year - nearly 10 yards wider on average.
"I am happy the course will provide a nice test. I will be very suprised if anyone does four sub par rounds - but not a bit upset. On Sunday morning I will have a fry either way."