By Brian Keogh
Philip Walton has the fire in his belly again after surviving a marathon day at The European Club to share the clubhouse lead in the Ladbrokes.com Irish PGA Championship.
After a 12-hour day on the pristine Brittas Bay Links, the 46-year-old Dubliner confessed that he is looking forward to feeling the “tingle” of competition in his nerves ends again after completely losing his desire for the game in the wake of his stressful Ryder Cup heroics at Oak Hills in 1995.
Up at 5 o’clock and out on the course by 7 o’clock to complete his weather-delayed first round, the Malahide man finished the day with a pair of 73’s that left him tied at the top of the provisional 36-hole leaderboard with Clontarf’s Eamonn Brady and Greenore’s Robert Giles on four-over par.
After qualifying for the next week’s Open at Royal Lancashire on Tuesday, Walton hopes to complete a dream week by snatching his fifth Irish PGA title in a head to head-battle with defending champion Padraig Harrington over the weekend before heading to Royal Birkdale.
But he faces an uphill task after late second round starter Harrington came back from an early double bogey to blast five birdies in a nine-hole spell late last night to lead the championship on two-over par after 13 holes - two-under for the day.
The Open champion began his second in torrential rain at 5.30 pm and after running his a double bogey six at the 11th, his second, he birdied the 13th, 15th, 16th, second and third to lead on two-over par before dropping a shot with a three-putt from 20 feet at his 13th.
Licking his lips at the prospect of a head-to-head with Harrington, Walton said: “I’d love to have a battle with Padraig over the week-end. It would be good for next week at Birkdale. It would tune me up and in fact would be good for both of us.
“I would love to play with him on the last day, to be in there with him. No, not to compare my game with him. I play my own game. But I rate him highly. He’s tough in every way. A real tough gun.”
Walton suffered badly in the 1995 Ryder Cup at Oak Hill, where he limped over the line to beat Jay Haas on the 18th and give Europe its first win on American soil since 1987.
He lost his tour card in 1999 and after regaining it in 2004, lost it again at the end of the following season.
That signalled the start of a lean two-year spell for three-time Euroepan Tour winner. But following the death of his father Joe in March this year and with his bother Alan, teenage son Rhys and nephew Brendan urging him on, he plans to kick start his career again over the next eight days.
“I miss the cut and thrust of the championships,” Walton said. “Think of Brendan McGovern last year, I’d say he got tingly playing Padraig and going to a play-off. I miss that tingle. I’d say the last time I had it was in the Ryder Cup.
“When you’re swinging it well, you’re enjoying it. I stopped enjoying my golf after the Ryder Cup. This week and next week could give me a new lease of life. It would be a boost for my confidence.”