Patience key for Padraig at Sawgrass

Ronan Flood
By Brian Keogh

“Old-timer” Padraig Harrington sees patience as the key to ending Europe’s 21-year wait for a winner in $9.5 million The Players Championship.

As the young guns capture the limelight at terrifying TPC Sawgrass, Harrington will be relying on his old head to grab golf’s unofficial Fifth Major and make it four Irish wins on the trot.

The Open champion, 37 in August, will tee it up at terrifying TPC Sawgrass, determined to take the rough with the smooth.

But when asked how he assessed the arrival of 20-something winners like Masters champion Trevor Immelman, Anthony Kim, Brandt Snedeker and Johnson Wagner, Harrington confessed: “I do get a sense that I'm getting old. I said in Europe, there's a changing of the guard.

“The European Ryder Cup team looked for a while like it could end up with six rookies and when we had a dinner at the Accenture Match Play this year, I was the second-oldest person in the room - not including Nick Faldo.

“Now with the likes of Darren (Clarke) coming back into form and things like that, it might not be as extreme as I thought.

“But I definitely see, there is a changing of the guard in Europe, and it might be happening in the States, too.

“These things happen every eight years and it looks like it might be happening in the States. It will take another two to four years before all those young guys really come through in terms of the consistently marquee names.”

Now that he has won his first Major, Harrington is focussing completely on adding to his tally during his peak years as a pro.

And that’s why he is sticking with his plan to play two events in the run up to golf’s four official Majors - skipping the BMW PGA at Wentworth later this month to head into the US Open on the back of appearances in Wales and Memphis.

He said: “For the next number of years anyway, in the peak years of my career, the majors are very much the focus.

“I've won one already, but with that win, I kind of proved to myself that I can build a game for a particular week if I focus on it. My goal the next X number of years is always to peak for the majors.

“I'd dearly love to win a PGA Championship at Wentworth but over the years I have struggled. There are an incredible amount of good events out there competing with each other. It's one of the tough things to play everything.”

Harrington reckons the Players will be a major in 50 or 100 years time. And he has a great record at Sawgrass, finishing second in 2003 and 2004 before the course was completely overhauled for last year’s edition.

After finishing a disappointing 52nd last year, he knows that getting that fourth Irish win on the trot - the fifth if you include Michael Hoey’s Challenge tour win - won’t be easy.

He said: “I suppose my two runner-up finishes were probably on a different golf course, different time of the year.

"But I like it here. It's a course that gives up a few birdies. But it can take them away.

“There's plenty of danger. It's not right on top of you, but it's there. If you hit a bad shot, you can certainly find the water on a number of places. Certainly No. 17 is the one that's very much there, very intimidating.

“But I think it's the sort of golf course you can shoot a good score on. So if you stay patient, you'll always get a run, maybe a couple of times during the week you'll get nine holes where you'll play four or five-under par and that will certainly bring your score up. Probably that's the way to win the tournament, stay patient and wait for those good runs.”

As for Ireland’s stunning run of victories, Harrington had no idea he was the only Irishman in action this week.

He thought originally that Rory McIlroy, Paul McGinley and Gary Murphy were teeing it up in Italy, but on learning the reality of the situation, he beamed: “Oh, great, no pressure on me.”

With Tiger Woods still recovering from knee surgery, Harrington is the third favourite behind former winners Phil Mickelson, the defending champion, and Adam Scott.

And while a European hasn’t won at Sawgrass since Sandy Lyle in 1987 and with 21 from the old country teeing it up, Harrington reckons he has a chance.

He said: “No matter how tough the course is playing, you feel like if you get on a run out there, you can shoot a 65 or something like that.

“It's not like everybody is going to be shooting in or around 70, 72. There will be great scores shot on the course, but it's hard to keep it going then all the time, as well, for 72 holes. Patience is the key.”