From Brian Keogh at The European Club

He might not have finished in ideal fashion but Padraig Harrington still left The European Club convinced that he could not have asked for better preparation for next week's Open Championship defence at Royal Birkdale.

The Dubliner was eight strokes clear of second placed Philip Walton with three holes to play but bogeyed the 16th and double bogeyed the 18th after a visit to the water hazard for a one-over par 72 that left him four ahead in the end on one-over par and clutching his fifth Irish PGA title.

"It was a pity to drop a few shots at the end there, which is a good lesson in itself. It just shows you that you can never let up but I am happy with my week, " said Harrington, who picked up €10, 000 for the win.

"My alignment was a little bit off because of the neck injury I had last week and that meant I had to concentrate a little bit harder. It was a good exercise in focus this week and I got to hit a few more short game shots, which is always good.

"I hit some nice irons shot and putted lovely, which is always pleasing. So it has been an excellent week and I couldn't have asked for better preparation."

Walton outgunned Harrington by two strokes in the end, carding three birdies and two bogeys in a one-under par 70 for a five-over par total with Waterville's David Higgins alone in third on seven-over after a 70.

But after using the Irish PGA as a springboard to Major glory last year, Harrington does not believe his fifth domestic win will give him a one-shot advantage on his rivals next week.

"I don't think it puts he ahead of anyone else but it helps me save shots, " he said. "It will make my golf better and it was nice to win today after not winning for seven or eight months.

"I have a bit of work to do on my alignment after the neck problem I had last week in the European Open. My shoulder were a little open and that's why I was struggling in the left to right wind. But I think that I am pretty much on top of that. Mentally I am happy." 

Harrington began the day on level par with a commanding six-stroke lead over Walton with David Higgins, Eamonn Darcy and Yorkshire-born Greenore professional Robert Giles eight strokes adrift on eight-over par.

The Dubliner had complained on Friday that he wasn't quite 100 percent happy with his swing, fighting a tendency to leave the clubface open at the top. 

Despite cool, overcast but almost windless final round conditions, the 36-year-old looked far from comfortable  on the front nine yesterday, hitting just one of seven fairways in regulation and dropping two shots in the first four holes.

He bogeyed the first by three-putting from an impossible position above the pin and the third after pushing his tee shot into deep rough. But his driving wasn't destructively wayward, however, and he birdied the fifth from close range before turning a possible bogey into a birdie at the eighth, where he drove into the right hand dunes but found the green and then holed an unlikely 40 footer for birdie.

"Seven and eight were the turning points, " Harrington said. "I played them in one under par and I could have played them in two over. After that I felt comfortable and played for pars."

Five ahead at the turn, Harrington saw Walton cut his advantage to four shots with a birdie at the 10th before birdies at the 13th and 15th gave him an eight stroke advantage as Walton bogeyed the 12th and 15th. There would be no repeat of the 2004 Irish PGA at St Margarets, where Walton finished just one behind Harrington.

Despite suffering from a touch of arthritis in his big toe, Walton thoughts are focussed now on next week's Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, the scene of his last Major championship appearance ten years ago.

He has a checkered Open Championship record with eight missed cuts in his 12 appearances between 1981 and 1998 with a best finish of tied 13th behind Mark Calcavecchia at Royal Troon in 1989.

He was 38th at Royal Birkdale the last time around and he has a special reason to give it his very best shot this time following the death of his father Joe earlier this year.

"He was my pal as well as being my Dad, " 46-year-old Walton explained earlier this week. "When he was in hospital, a few weeks before he died, he asked me to give the Open one more go. I'm glad I listened to him. We'll go over and do our best."

After losing his European Tour card in 1999, Walton has been playing in a kind of golfing limbo for the best part of the last decade, though he did briefly win back his European Tour playing rights for the 2005 season.

His brother Alan has been instrumental in encouraging him to get back into the thick of the action, yet Walton himself confesses that he lost his passion for the game following his 1995 Ryder Cup winning exploits at Oak Hill.

"I miss that tingle, " he says, referring to the buzz of competition. " 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."

Walton didn't go to the Qualifying School last year as he nursed his ill father, but he will be back there in the ninth time autumn with his teenage son cheering him on.

"My son Rhys, who's 15, is behind me so much, " Walton explains. "He rings and texts me every days and tells me, come on Da, come on bosh, come on beast, you know the sayings the young lads have … it's like go dad, go dad. 

"I was doing it for my dad to make him proud of me and I'd love to bring my lad on as well.  He's not a bad player and I have a good nephew, Brendan, Alan's son."

Harrington paid tribute to Walton yesterday and expects him to do well when he turns up at Birkdale, explaining: "I'd like to be able to drive it as straight as Philip. Birkdale is a driver's course."

Final Scoreboard:

285 - P Harrington (Unattached) 75, 68, 70, 72;

289 - P Walton (Unattached) 73, 73, 73, 70;

291 - D Higgins (Waterville) 80, 72, 69, 70;

293 - E Darcy (La Sella) 75, 73, 73, 72;

297 - R Giles (Greenore) 73, 73, 75, 76;

299 - M Staunton (Black Bush) 81, 74, 73, 71; J Dignam (Slade Valley) 78, 72, 72, 77;

300 - M Collins (Mallow DR) 72, 77, 81, 70; W O'Callaghan (Carrighdoun DR) 75, 76, 73, 76; E Brady (Clontarf) 74, 72, 77, 77;

301 - G Robinson (Coollattin) 77, 73, 73, 78;

302 - D Mooney (Nevada Bobs) 80, 71, 75, 76;

304 - B McGovern (Headfort) 76, 74, 76, 78; D Mortimer (Team Ireland) 74, 78, 74, 78;

306 - E Tracey (Ballina) 76, 78, 74, 78;

307 - J Kelly (St Margaret's) 77, 75, 79, 77;

308 - F Howley (Carton House) 87, 73, 81, 67; S Thornton (Royal Co Down) 77, 77, 76, 78;

309 - D McNamara (Portmarnock) 82, 76, 76, 75;

310 - P Martin (Riverside Academy) 79, 74, 81, 76; G Burke (Curragh) 78, 77, 77, 78;

312 - J Dwyer (Ashbourne) 78, 81, 76, 77; C McVitty (Bundoran) 78, 78, 78, 78;

313 - A Murray (Greystones) 84, 75, 76, 78;

314 - J Foster (Greenacres) 81, 79, 79, 75; I Kerr (Carlow GR) 82, 74, 82, 76; C Mallon (Narin & Portnoo) 81, 79, 78, 76;

315 - J Langan (Leopardstown Golf Ctr) 79, 78, 78, 80;

316 - L Walker (Dundalk) 82, 79, 79, 76; M Mulryan (Athenry) 84, 73, 82, 77; J Heggarty (Claremorris) 80, 76, 81, 79;

317 - E O'Connor (Kilkenny) 71, 88, 80, 78;

318 - K O'Neill (Co Sligo) 75, 81, 85, 77; DP Jones (Royal Portrush) 82, 77, 81, 78; G Lunny (Nass) 76, 78, 84, 80;

319 - B Kelleher (Golf Works Cork) 84, 73, 81, 81; J Geraghty (Old Conna) 83, 78, 76, 82;

320 - T Higgins (TH Golf) 75, 81, 84, 80;

322 - P Jones (Coollattin) 78, 80, 83, 81;

323 - J Fay (Co Meath) 80, 80, 81, 82;

325 - B Kerley (Greenlife Golf Ctr) 86, 74, 81, 84; S Deegan (Spawell) 79, 74, 87, 85;

326 - J Murray (Malahide) 79, 81, 85, 81;

328 - J Bolger (Kilkenny) 77, 80, 87, 84;

329 - P Hanna (Fortwilliam) 81, 80, 85, 83; M McTernan (Co Sligo) 80, 78, 86, 85; D Byrne (Unattached) 78, 80, 85, 86;

320 - K Grealy (Athlone) 81, 79, 82, 78;

326 - D Hughes (Portadown) 82, 78, 82, 84;