Padraig Harrington is expecting a rough ride in next week’s Open at Turnberry.
And that’s why he insists that the €26,000 Ladbrokes.com Irish PGA Championship at The European Club is more important than it’s ever been to his chances of lifting the Claret Jug.
Ireland’s triple major winner was shocked to find “the thickest rough I have ever seen” on a two-day trip to the Open venue on Sunday and Monday.
But he’ll face something similar at Pat Ruddy’s County Wicklow links and reckons it is still not too late to boost his confidence and sharpen up his misfiring putter before he bids for a hat-trick of Open titles last achieved by Peter Thomson in 1956.
Reeling after missing five successive cuts, the Dubliner was stunned to discover that the Scottish links looks more like a US Open venue due to massive growth in the rough and believes there is little chance of a birdie-fest.
Pointing to the heavy rough at The European Club, he said: “It’s just like Turnberry. Played 36 holes there on Sunday and Monday and it is the thickest, closest rough I have ever seen to fairways and greens - ever.
“I had three people looking for a ball for a minute five yards off a green - max five yards off a green - and we couldn't find it. And we knew where it was!"
Given that scenario and his poor driving performance in the US Open at Bethpage last month, the Irish PGA is massively important to the Dubliner.
Putting it bluntly, Harrington said: "This week is more significant than it ever has been, that's for sure. It’s important because I am obviously looking for form and I am obviously looking for confidence.
“I am not in believer in things changing overnight. I am a believer in nice steady progress and I saw that last week in France, where I drove the ball well.
“At the end of the day, the reason I have missed the last number of cuts has been my putting and there is no doubt that was the case again in France.”
Harrington used the Irish PGA as a springboard to Open glory in 2007 and 2008 but things are different this time.
His form this season has been nothing short of horrendous by his high standards and he has missed eight cuts out of 15 due to wayward driving and some sloppy short game displays.
His driving was better in France last week but he confessed that he more anxious about the state of his game than the Open itself.
Bidding for a sixth Irish PGA title and a first prize of just €4,000 compared to €10,000 last year, Harrington said: “I’m anxious about my game. I’d like to be anxious about the Open and excited about how it’s going to go. I’m just thinking at the moment how am I going to play. I’m not really sure. If your are going in with form you are trying to replicate that as well as you can. When you are going in without form, that is certainly the situation in which I am.”
Winning the Irish PGA has been key to Harrington’s back to back Open successes and amazingly he did the double 2007 by winning both events in a play-off before winning both by four shots last year.
European Club supremo Pat Ruddy has made subtle changes to the course to test Harrington to the limit before he gets to Turnberry on Sunday.
Speaking of the Open venue, Harrington said: “When I saw the course seven weeks ago I thought the winning score might be 16 under par. Now I am thinking of five under par.
“I don't particularly like playing golf courses with heavy rough because I consider that I would have the imagination to get up and down and play my way around, by hitting shots. This [the rough] takes that element out of it. While I don't find it any fun and I am dreading the prospect of it being really tight, I know competitively I am as good as anybody else in that situation, so why not.
“But it is playing very similar to a US Open of maybe four or five years ago. Maybe an Oakmont sort of thing. It is actually very close to Muirfield in 2002. You couldn't get away with missing the fairways there.”
Harrington won’t have things all his own way this week with Open qualifier David Higgins and previous winners Philip Walton, Martin Sludds and David Mortimer joined by hot shots like Simon Thornton, Richard Kilpatrick and Irish No 1 John Kelly.
European Club supremo Pat Ruddy has made subtle changes to the course to test Harrington to the limit.
He’s added a new grass bunker in the middle of the fairway at the 16th, bang in the landing area, allowed the rough to grow and created shaved run offs to replicate conditions at Turnberry as closely as possible.
Confident that Harrington’s class is permanent and that the Dubliner is far from a spent force, Ruddy insisted: “A dog that bites is always dangerous to have around.”