By Brian Keogh
Open champion Padraig Harrington has vowed to hold on the Claret Jug with an iron fist in July.
The Dubliner began the seven-week countdown to his title defence with a practice round at Royal Birkdale yesterday.
And he insisted that nothing but a victory will satisfy him as the bids to match Tiger Woods and win back-to-back Open titles on Merseyside from July 17-20.
Determined not to settle for second best, Harrington said: “I’m not here to put in the solid defence. That doesn’t mean anything to me. If somebody turns around and offers me fifth place in the Open, I’d say no.
“For the last couple of years, my sight have been very firmly on turning up to win tournaments. Fifth place might be very good in retrospect, but winning is what I am about at the moment and that is why I’m here.”
Harrington choppered 170 miles north from this week’s Wales Open at Celtic Manor to take part in a company day for his club sponsors Wilson.
And he believes his lightning visit will make it easier for him to find his focus when the spotlight shines down on him in 50 days’ time.
Watched by his old coach Howard Bennett, Harrington said: “I think I’d be happy to defend anytime. But it is going to be different. There’s going to be a little more pressure an expectation but you are happy to deal with it.
“I will have to try and tone it down during the week and keep it relatively low profile and low key.”
His only worry is that Birkdale is such a fair course that there will be dozens of pretenders capable of putting up a major challenge for his title.
But he still believes that his determination not to settle for second best will help him fend off all comers on a track that reminds him of Pormarnock.
He said: “There might be a lot of players coming here and liking it, which is not what I want. I’d be happier if everybody turns up and hates the place, that’s a good thing for me.
“I can understand why a lot of players would rate this very highly. It’s not a tricky course, there’s nothing funky about it. Everything is there in front of you.
“I prefer a difficult test because it limits the number of people who can compete on the golf course, though if there is more pressure on you, you’d prefer to be on a more straightforward golf course than one that throws up a lot.
“That’s what happens when you are under pressure. It’s the decision-making which gets tested so it is better when the decision-making should be reasonably straightforward on this golf course.
“Avoid the bunkers off the tee. Hit it in the middle of the greens because it looks reasonably inviting from there.”
After a week off following a disappointing Irish Open showing, Harrington knows he must hit the ground running in Wales as he bids for a fifth Ryder Cup cap in September.
Currently outside the 10 automatic places in Nick Faldo’s team, he confessed that he needs a win to move up the rankings.
He said: “I probably only have the chance to make it from the World Points List and it’s pretty tight there.
“There’s seven or eight guys playing for those five positions in the world ranking and that’s not throwing in anybody else who maybe has a good run.
“I’ve got to make sure that I do my job and get in the points over the next few weeks. I think we’ve only got nine or ten events so it would make it a lot easier on myself if I could go on and win one of those events.”