Hopes high heading to Carnoustie

By Brian Keogh

Pádraig Harrington and David Higgins headed from The European Club to Carnoustie with a spring in their step and hopes high.

But while Harrington will be aware that mental discipline is vital after surviving a 71st hole triple bogey before defeating Brendan McGovern at the first play-off hole, Higgins is simply buzzing at the prospect of playing his first major championship.

Despite closing with a pair of three over par 74s that relegated him to tied fourth - nine shots outside the play-off for the title on four over par - the Waterville man can’t wait to get to Scotland.

And neither can Harrington, who bounced back from taking a seven at the par-four 17th to birdie the last and force a play-off with Headfort professional McGovern at the testing Brittas Bay links.

After going from two ahead to one behind McGovern with one to play, Harrington will draw on the positive feelings of a majestic eight-iron approach to 12 feet at the 72nd hole which gave him a 72 to McGovern’s 74 and left them tied on five under par.

On their return to the 18th in the play-off, Harrington two putted from 45 feet for a solid par four as McGovern drove into a bush and took four shots to reach the putting surface after a penalty drop.

The world No 10 confessed that the heat of competition was just the thing he needed ahead of the Open and that 17th hole aberration was a timely reminding of exactly what he needs to work on in his practice rounds at Carnoustie.

Reflecting on his fourth Irish PGA title, which complete a double with the Irish Open last achieved by Harry Bradshaw 60 years ago, Harrington "I can't make things easy but it is always nice to win and better to get the experience of playing in play-offs.

"You can't beat competing. In the end of the day I could finish 10th in an event and win $150,000 with the prize funds these days. But there is nothing like finishing first. There is nothing like competing to win. There is a different kind of stress in that.

"It may only be €12,500 (for the win) but competing is everything. I am trying as hard as I can. I am nervous on 18 and I am nervous playing tie holes. You can't beat that sort of thing.

"Carnoustie is going to be similar to The European Club, though a little longer. We are going to be asked to hit our driver a little bit more over there.

"But besides that the preparation was good and you are getting to judge how far the ball is going in these conditions.

"I am sure it is going to be similar temperature wise and wind wise next week so I think it has been excellent build up."

Higgins was happy with his build up too, despite a disappointing final day.

"I hit a few loose shots but I am going to the Open now, so that is the main thing,” said Higgins. “It’s a dream come true to play in it because I must have holed the winning putt in the Open hundreds of times as a kid.

“I am getting a bit more more mature and you appreciate things more, which is something I am starting to do now. Hopefully that will help me get better results and play better. We have a great job and when you realise that you don't get as frustrated and your results can only improve.”

Harrington still has work to do on his mental game, however, and that 71st hole triple bogey could prove to be the wake up call he needs to end Ireland's 60 year wait for a major victory.

His fourth win in the domestic professional championship was also his third in sudden-death and his 19th as a professional. But he was made to work hard for his victory by McGovern.

The former European Tour pro, 41, hit a five under 66 to Harrington's 70 in the third round to take a two shot lead into the afternoon and while he still led by two shots with six to play, Harrington birdied three in a row from the 13th to move one in front.

That advantage became two shots when McGovern drove into trouble and bogeyed the 16th but Harrington then looked to have thrown the title away when he drove into rough and put his second in a bush to rack up a triple bogey seven on the 17th.

The world No 10 went to Wicklow hoping to sharpen his links game for Carnoustie, but he got a vital mental boost as well as a reminder that complacency kills.

Harrington said: "I made it hard and I always do. I just got complacent on 17 - I got distracted on the tee and I should have stood off it.

"I was two ahead and thought nothing way going wrong. I went ahead anyway and hit a bad tee shot and I have to watch those mistakes. It really was a time to stand off it and I didn't.

"I do that sometimes, when I believe things I going for me. When things aren't going for me, that is when I made my birdies today. I need to be in the frame of mind more often.

"The birdie at the 18th was good but the three birdies in a row were important because nothing was really going my way.

"I hit some nice iron shots and they were going 20 feet by the hole. But to birdie three in a row and get right back in it, it looked like it was going to be comfortable from there on in.

"It was nice to birdie 18, I needed it to get into the play off. Brendan had hardly put a foot wrong all day. Even when he did get into trouble once on 16, he recovered so well. It was a bit unlucky for him."

Club pro McGovern was brilliant on the final day as he kept pace with the world No 10 until a poor drive cost him on the 16th and again in sudden death.

But Harrington paid tribute to him, adding: "Brendan has been out there on tour and every time he plays in tour events he acquits himself very well. Sometimes the golf courses can be very long out there. But he acquits himself very out there playing with the best."

McGovern was shattered to come so close and lose, but his driving problems eventually caught up with him over the closing holes.

He said: "Even though I drove the ball well for four days, I have been driving it badly for three years now. I was waiting for that bad shot and it came along on 16 and again in the play-off.

"Having said that, I was lucky on the 17th with what happened to Padraig. I played well and I enjoyed it. I hit a good third shot on 18 and a good pitch. But fair dos to Padraig. The best player won."