Padraig Harrington is feeling good about his chances of hanging on to the Claret Jug for another year after retaining his Irish PGA title by four shots at The European Club.

The Dubliner grabbed his first win for more than eight months when he closed with a 72 to finish four shots clear of surprise Open qualifier Philip Walton on one-over par.

And while he spotted a flaw in his set up that he hopes to sort out before Thursday's opening round at Royal Birkdale, he arrived on Merseyside yesterday with an extra spring in his step

"Winning is always a nice feeling. It is a habit and not a bad habit to stick with," Harrington said after honing his game for five days in testing weather on one of Ireland's toughest links courses. "The whole week was very satisfactory. It’s been an excellent exercise and I couldn't have asked for a better week in preparation for the Open.”

Harrington was eight shots clear with three holes to play but bogeyed the 16th and double bogeyed the last to see his margin of victory halved in the end.

But he dismissed those late mistakes as mere lapses in concentration and preferred to focus on the positives, such as his steady putting and majestic iron play.

He said: “It was a little bit disappointing to drop two shots at the last as I wanted to finish under par. It doesn't make a great deal of difference in the scheme of things but we have always got a little bit of pride to play for.
“When I birdied 15, I sort of lost my concentration for the last couple of holes, I'll have to watch for that, you always have to pay attention.

"But in terms of my golf it has been great for me to play all the links shots I will need at Birkdale in a competitive environment.

"I played nice golf at times and hit some nice iron shots in close. I putted lovely all week as well so I'm very happy with that end of things. All in all, it was a very positive week."

Harrington will be bidding to become the first European to win back to back Open Championships since James Braid in 1906.

And while he dismissed the notion that he has stolen a march on his rivals thanks to his intensive links preparation, he knows it won't do him any harm either.
"I don't think it puts me a shot ahead of anybody else," he said with a grin. "But it will certainly save me shots and make my golf better next week.

“I have still got to work a bit on my alignment. My shoulders were a little open and that is why I was struggling in a left to right wind. I am pretty much on top of that. Really besides that I won't be working on anything.”

After coming through Open qualifying at West Lancs last Monday and Tuesday, runner Walton was exhausted at the finish after playing six rounds of links golf in a row.

He said: “I was swinging all over the place there at the end and I'll have a few days rest now. I’ll be at Birkdale on Tuesday and I am really looking forward to it.”

And Harrington believes straight-hitting Walton can do well in his first Major appearance for ten years.

He said: "Philip played lovely golf as always. I'd like to hit as straight as he hits it. It is a big bonus for him. Birkdale is not a long hitter's course and he is very comfortable off the tee.

“That is one of the big features at Birkdale as Mark O’Meara proved when he won there in ‘98. You just want to be able to hit it very straight, over and over.”