By Brian Keogh

Padraig Harrington will be battling some familiar rivals when he begins his Irish PGA title defence at The European Club today.

Big brother Tadhg will be with him on the first tee as he caddies for his close friend John Kelly, the Irish Club Professional champion.

What’s worse is that the bag Tadgh will be carrying will contain the set of high-tech Wilson irons that Harrington used in his Hassan Trophy victory last year.

Harrington knows that Tadhg is to “blame” for the loss of an expensive set of irons that were cut specially for him in Japan using laser technology

And while he laughs at the prospect of being beaten with his own sticks, he is fully focussed on repeating last year’s links double and heading to Royal Birkdale for next week’s Open with his fifth Irish PGA title in the bag.

Faced with the possibility of seeing 25 Harrington clubs on the first tee, Harrington said: “I remember wondering where those irons we had specially made up had gone. But Tadhg had them out the door like a shot. Could I get beaten my my own clubs? It’s certainly possible.”

Millionaire Harrington will be playing for a top prize of just €10,000 but four rounds at The European Club will be priceless to him in terms of preparation for his Open Championship defence.

Last season, he won the title but needed to birdie the last to force a play-off with Brendan McGovern.

And he knows that the challenging course and stiff competition are just what he needs to sharpen up his game for next week’s Major examination.

Ryder Cup heroes and former Irish PGA winners Eamonn Darcy and Philip Walton will be two of Harrington’s chief rivals this week.

But he will also have to outgun McGovern, Waterville professional David Higgins and Irish Region No 1 Kelly if he is to avoid an embarrassing defeat before the Open.

Darcy reckons that anything other than a victory by the world No 13 would mean trouble, explaining: “ It is a good warm up for him. But if he doesn't win there is something wrong. After all, he is at the top of the world rankings.”

But Harrington knows that anything can happen on Pat Ruddy’s muscular Brittas Bay links, where wiry rough and cavernous bunkers will severely punish any loose shots.

After taking a double bogey six at the tough seventh yesterday, the 1/2 favourite knows that he can be beaten here.

But he still believes that playing a links venue the week before the Open will give him an edge at Birkdale.

Assessing the advantages, he said: “There are a number of benefits. First of all, I’m better off getting competitive for any tournament on a golf course than I am on any practice ground.

“The second benefit is that I get to do that this week in a reasonably stress-free environment for me. It’s low-key, I’m staying at home. So it is ideal in that sense.

“The third benefit is it’s on a links golf course. It takes a while to get used to the wind again because my ball flight has totally changed since I play in the ‘States so much and it does take a while to get used to the shots you want to hit.

“On a links golf course, there’s the lies, the putts, putting from off the green, the chipping, the pitching, the sand in the bunkers. The wind, punch shots, all those things. How far the ball will travel. There’s so many things that are different on a links course.”

Major rivals like Adam Scott and several other tour players are jealous that Harrington gets to prepare for the Open on a links and wonder if they can do the same and skip this week’s Scottish Open at Loch Lomond.

But the event is only open to Irish Tour players and Irish-resident professionals who are registered with the Irish Region of the PGA.

Asked if his rivals were envious, Harrington said: “Yes. With a number of people, usually the first comment is ‘can we play’.

“Many of the guys have said to me it’d be great to me. Well, next year the French Open is two weeks before The Open so that’s as close as good preparation you can get, bar standing on a links course. So that’s good preparation for next year’s Open.”

Headfort professional McGovern almost beat Harrington last year, when the Dubliner triple bogeyed the 71st hole and was forced to birdie the last just to get into a play-off.

And after firing a course record 64 in Carlow last Friday, McGovern is itching to go one better this year.

He said: “I was disappointed last year. I am not going to say I was delighted. I had a chance, he got away and then let me back into it on 17th.

“This is a tough golf course and it requires nothing but good golf Anything that is not good golf will be penalised.

“It is a course where you have to play well to shoot a good score. Other course you might not play well and still do a score. Ladbrokes have me a 66/1 and Harrington is 1/2. That says it all.” Irish PGA Championship, The European Club (Par 71)
Tee-times (Rd 1/Rd 2) Wed/Thurs
(1st tee/10th tee)
8:00/12:40 P Ring (Elm Green), P Collins (Galgorm Castle), S Donnelly (Castle Hume);
8:10/12:50 D Bell (Newry Golf Academy), J Scullion (Royal County Down), N Howley (Balbriggan);
8:20/13:00 I Kerr ((Carlow Golf Range), K Coveney (Killarney), N Graham (Kirkistown Castle);
8:30/13:10 D Kiely (Faithlegg), R Donagher (Joe Frawley Golf & Leisure), R Whitford (Knock);
8:40/13:20 K Foy (Stepaside), D Walker (Foxrock), S Deegan (Spawell Driving Range);
8:50/13:30 I St John (Nenagh), D Ryan (Cahir Park), C Thornton (Dundalk);
9:00/13:40 J Murray (Malahide), J Heggarty (Claremorris), G Brennan (Slade Valley);
9:10/13:50 E Darcy (La Sella), B McGovern (Headfort), A Murray (Greystones);
9:20/14:00 J Foster (Greenacres), C Mallon (Narin & Portnoo), E McEneaney (Knightsbrook);
9:30/14:10 M Staunton (Black Bush), P Harrington (Bank of Ireland), J Kelly (St Margaret's);

(10th tee/1st tee)
8:00/12:40 B Kelleher (Golf Works Cork), P O'Rourke (Green 18), S O'Rourke (Tramore);
8:10/12:50 J Murray (Hollystown), C McCormick (Newcastlewest), G Howie (Adare Manor Hotel & Golf Resort);
8:20/13:00 K Grealy (Athlone), M Ward (P&M Golf Superstore), C Farr (Whitehead);
8:30/13:10 M Mulryan (Athenry), L Walker (Dundalk), E Martin (Beaverstown);
8:40/13:20 C Lyttle (Ballyclare), F Howley (Carton House), P McCarroll (Massereene);
8:50/13:30 D Hughes (Portadown), L Hynes (Rathsallagh), P O'Hagan (PM Corporate Events);
9:00/13:40 J Geraghty (Old Conna), J Quinlivan (Elm Park), R Jackson (Old Conna);
9:10/13:50 C Cullen (Balbriggan), D Byrne (Unatt.), H Jackson (Donabate);
9:20/14:00 B Trainor (South County), E Treacy (Ballina), D McWilliams (Unatt.)
9:30/14:10 J Fay (Co. Meath), David Mooney (Carr Golf Services), Z Rouiller (Beech Park).

(1st tee/10th tee)
12:40/8:00 M Dixon (The K Club), K McGrath (Birr Dr. Range), J Roche (Gorey Driving Range);
12:50/8:10 B Kerley (Greenlife), G Robinson (Coollattin), D McNamara (Portmarnock);
13:00/8:20 G Chambers (Killymoon), S Hayes (Rathsallagh), W O'Callaghan (Carrigdhoun Golf Range)
13:10/8:30 L Owens (Killiney), J Bolger (Kilkenny), L Bowler (Wexford);
13:20/8:40 G Lunny (Naas), M O'Boyle (The Heath), C McVitty (Bundoran);
13:30/8:50 D Mortimer (Team Ireland), L Owens (Royal Dublin), R Brady (Headfort);
13:40/9:00 M McTernan (Co. Sligo), G McLean (Carlow), P Hanna (Fortwilliam);
13:50/9:10 D Higgins (Waterville), Damian Mooney (Nevada Bobs Belfast), M Sludds (Enniscorthy);
14:00/9:20 P McGuirk (Co. Louth), P McClelland (Portadown), R Giles (Greenore);
14:10/9:30 M Heinemann (Skellig Bay), J Langan (Leopardstown Golf Ctr), S Clinton (Portsalon).

(10th tee/1st tee)
12:40/8:00 F Dwyer Celbridge DR), D Carroll (Seapoint), W Noble Co Cavan);
12:50/8:10 M Allan (Leopardstown Golf Centre), G Spring (Unatt.), M Cassidy (Nuremore Golf Hotel);
13:00/8:20 L Mulligan (South County), K O'Neill Co Sligo), B McDermott (The Golf Academy);
13:10/8:30 G Wardlow (Dunmurry), P Martin (Riverside Golf Academy), G Burke (Curragh);
13:20/8:40 B Hamill (Barry Hammill Golf Academy), M Collins (Mallow Golf Range) DP Jones (Royal Portrush);
13:30/8:50 S Thornton (Royal County Down), E Brady (Clontarf), P Walton (Unatt.);
13:40/9:00 P Stevenson (Portadown), K McGivern (Kellys Golf Centre), E O'Connor (Kilkenny);
13:50/9:10 G Loughrey (Roganstown), J Dignam (Slade Valley), T Higgins (T.H. Golf);
14:00/9:20 J Dwyer (Ashbourne), P Jones (Coollattin), D Byrne (Longford DR);
14:10/9:30 I Kearney (Doonbeg), P O'Boyle (Bandon), S Lucas (Malahide).