Home hero Padraig Harrington has sent a grim "hands off" message to his Irish Open rivals.

The defending champion believes he's a better player than ever after using last year's win as a springboard to Major glory in the Open.

And as he prepared to tee off in his own "Fifth Major" for the 13th time, it looks like bad luck for the rest of the 156-man field.

Assessing his game ahead of what should be a sun-splahed carnival at Adare Manor, Harrington said: "I'm definitely a better player.

"I'm better prepared this year than I was last year. I'm a lot better player and I'm still improving. I understand my own game and where I'm going with it more.

"I'm a better swinger of the golf club, and better mentally. I know better what I'm doing and much better able to get my game to a level that I need it to be at.

"My game is much more predictable. Every element of my game is better. My bunker play is better than it was last year. My pitching seems to be better.

"Overall, I have a much better understanding of where I'm going with my swing and where I'm going with my mental game."

As the top ranked player in the field, Harrington is a massive 7-1 favourite with the bookies to lift his 22nd professional title and his 13th on the European Tour.

The weather is also set to be much better than last year and while the field is also stronger, with three rivals from the world's top 50 as opposed to just one last year, things are set up for Harrington to continue Ireland's amazing victory march.

The course is set to play close to its 7,453-yard maximum, which is a help to a big-hitter like Harrington.

He also likes the greens and while he crashed out of last week's Players Championship in a hail of bogeys, he's not letting that get him down.

The pressure is also off in terms of Irish wins thanks to the stellar performances of Graeme McDowell, Darren Clarke, Damien McGrane and Peter Lawrie over the past few months.

And while young gun Rory McIlroy is bidding to become the youngest ever Irish Open winner, Harrington has more experience than almost anyone in the field apart from Ryder Cup team mates Clarke, Lee Westwood and Colin Montgomerie.

After coming through to end Ireland's 25-year wait for a home winner last year in a dramatic play-off with Welshman Bradley Dredge, Harrington knows he can do the business under the cosh

And he confessed that his breakthrough Irish Open win unquestionably laid the foundations of his first Major triumph at Carnoustie eight weeks later.

Harrington said: "You couldn't underestimate how important it was in terms of going on to win at Carnoustie. It did give me a lot of self-confidence winning here.

"It told me that I could go and win a tournament under a lot of focus, a lot of pressure, a lot of distress and a lot of distraction and that gives you a lot confidence when you can come through something like that. It was definitely a big confidence booster."

Missing the cut at Sawgrass has made no difference to Harrington's mindset or made him more determined.

He said: "I'm already motivated with the Irish Open. To be honest, it has zero effect on this week. It doesn't faze me at all."

And thanks to Ireland's spate of tour winners, he's been able to get on with his preparations better than ever before, explaining: "It's been a bonus. They are taking the attention and the focus at the moment and there's less for me to do. So I'm better prepared this year than I was last year."

Harrington found the course playing even longer than last year, when it was wet and winds were high.

And while he likes the course, he'd love to have more run offs around the greens instead of heavy rough that takes the skill out of recovery shots.

He said: "Personally I would rip it all out and have a lot of runoffs. Chipping out of the rough is just a lottery.

"That's why I love Augusta. Those chip shots around the greens are intimidating."

Right now, Harrington's name on the top of the leaderboard is enough to intimidate virtually everyone in the field.