Harrington plans a slow burn at Torrey Pines

Padraig Harrington hopes to fly under the radar and blow top guns Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson out of the sky with another major-winning charge.

The game’s top two players will grab all the limelight as they go head to head over the first two rounds at Torrey Pines in a made-for-TV US Open.

But while everyone is watching the superstars do their thing, high-flyer Harrington is hoping that he can keep the stress to a minimum and then come blazing out of the noon sun on Sunday to grab his second major title.

Outlining his ideal strategy for the week, Harrington said: “You can be so patient at a Major because you don’t feel that anybody is going to run away from you.

“You just trundle along there and even if somebody gets off to a good start or whatever, they will always slow up or come back.

“It is a long week and you have to try and be patient. You are only looking to be there with nine holes to go.

“And if I am there with nine holes to go, I know I can win because I have done it before and that’s what I am looking for.”

At Carnoustie, Harrington stormed back from six shots behind Sergio Garcia with a Sunday 67 before taking the Open title in a play-off.

This week he says he likes the look of a course that is the longest in Major championship history at 7,643 yards - 379 yards longer than any previous track.

Yet it’s not length that bothers him but his sometimes fragile putting stroke on roller coaster greens than can run as fast at 13 and a half on the stimpmeter.

But with the cliff-top course shrouded in cloud - known locally as June Gloom - it won’t dry out and become a lightning fast without constant sun and wind.

Harrington said: “The length of the rough and width of the fairways are on the generous side for the USGA. It is a pleasing test at the moment.

“It is a great set up and because they have a big tough golf course, they have gone easy on us. They have cut away the rough for a good ten yards on either side of the fairways so the greens are the toughest part.

“They look like they could get very fast. But to get greens lightning fast you need the sun and wind to bake them. And with this damp weather it just doesn’t do it. You need the drying conditions.”

Harrington’s chances could well depend on how Woods performs in his first start since he had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee on April 13, two days after the Masters.

The world No 1 hasn’t walked 18 holes for eight weeks and even 2003 champion Jim Furyk is doubtful, but not totally convinced, that he can win here.

Furyk said: “It's difficult to take the amount of time he took off and come to a US Open and dominate the way he has. That being said, nothing he does surprises me.

“Last time he had surgery on his knee and took a whole bunch of time off, I remember him coming to San Diego and whipping the field. So I wouldn't be surprised if it happened again.

“He loves the golf course. He's played well here. He's dominated at times. If anyone can do it he can, because he doesn't play a heck of a lot of events, he can play 15 events and be sharp every time he tees it up.”

Woods confessed that his knee is still “a little sore”, adding: “It’s not anything that I haven’t dealt with before. I’m good to go. I plan on playing competitive. Come game time on Thursday, I’ll be ready.”

Being ready to go from the start is vital for Harrington, who tees it up with Angel Cabrera and Davis Love III at 9.36 pm Irish time today.

Harrington said: “I am comfortable with my preparation. I am ready to go. Other tournaments you might get that feeling on a Sunday morning. But at a major you have got to be ready to go from the gun on Thursday and keep it going for 72 holes.

“I’d rather take the lead as early as possible and be leading with nine holes to go and put yourself out there. But there is no question that a lot of the time, the easiest way to win tournaments is steady as you go and try not to put yourself under too much stress.”

Much is expected of Spanish superstar Garcia, who ended his victory drought in the Players Championship at Sawgrass.

He tied for fourth with Harrington in Memphis last week thanks to his short game and feels he is close to making his Major breakthrough.

He said: "I think my confidence with my short game, it's much greater than it's probably ever been, so that helps. I've had my chances (to win majors), so that's one goal accomplished. Now we have to try to get it to the next level and hopefully start winning majors."

No-one apart from Woods has a better short game than local hero Mickelson, who is second favourite behind the world No 1 to take his first US Open.

Four times a runner up in 17 appearances, Mickelson would love to break his duck on a course where his high school team played its matches.

He’s won three Buick Invitationals here but hasn’t putted well on the greens since they were redesigned in 2001.

Asked how he felt about the major that he craves, Mickelson said: "Well, I love it. I just haven't gotten the love back."

If he's up there on Sunday, he'd better look over his shoulder for a fast-finishing Harrington.