Padraig Harrington believes he’s a different animal to the “lunatic” who managed to finish fifth behind a rampant Tiger Woods in the US Open here 10 years ago.
Back in 2000, Harrington confessed that his good performances in majors had more to do with “pot luck” than science and while it’s been 11 months since his last victory (in the Irish PGA) and 22 months since he lifted his third major title in the 2008 US PGA at Oakland Hills, he reckons he’s overdue a win at this stage.
He certainly feels like a totally different player to the 28 year old who finished 17 shots behind Woods on his way to a share of fifth place in the 2000 US Open.
“I have a much greater understanding of what it takes to win a tournament,” Harrington said. “It is certainly not pot luck, let’s say. Turning up back in 2000, every week was a rollercoaster of where my game would be. It was hit and miss. It was a total adventure.
“There wasn’t a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday of a major or any tournament where I wasn’t running around like a lunatic trying to find something. I understand that if you don’t settle yourself down from Monday to Wednesday you are not going to be calm on Thursday. And you are certainly going to run out of energy by Sunday.
“So a huge amount of winning majors depends on how you approach the first three days of the week and then how you get through the first three rounds so you are fresh on Sunday and ready for the battle if you are going to win it.
“ I used to try and cover all the angles. Now I know that I don’t have to have everything right to win a major. You just have to be good mentally.”
Getting it this week would be a dream come true for the 38 year old Dubliner, who feels very much at home in cold, breezy conditions that make the Monterey Peninsula feel more like Rosses Point at Easter than sunny California in the middle of June.
“Obviously in 2000 it seemed to be warmer. It seemed to be windier, and it seemed to be firmer,” he said.
Smiling broadly, he added: “At the moment this is kind of like Irish weather out there. It’s very pleasant.”
Conditions are set to remain cool all week and Harrington knows he must remain in sync with the weather if he is to get three quarters of the way towards the career Grand Slam.
Winning here will require more mental discipline than physical prowess and he’s concentrating on being psychologically fresh for a 72 hole battle at America’s most iconic venue rather than reflecting on his erratic form so far this season.
Exactly three weeks after going “under the knife” Harrington revealed that his right knee is healing nicely and will not impede his bid to deny Woods or playing partner Phil Mickelson the glory in America’s blue riband championship.
Searching for his 26th professional victory, Harrington said: “When you win tournaments like that [major run from 2007 to 2008] you want to get out there and win another one.
“Obviously I haven’t won any sort of regular events, either, but at times I can be distracted at those events and maybe focusing my goals elsewhere. Certainly a win would be nice and it would be great if it’s this week. But any win would be nice. It’s kind of overdue at this stage, yes.
“I know when it comes to Majors if I apply myself correctly to the week I will walk away from the week comfortable with whatever my performance is.
“If you go chasing the result in the first place, you’ll be left very frustrated at the end of the week. So if you go along with the process you’ll be happy leaving.”
Pebble Beach is one of Harrington’s favourite venues and while he might prefer a tougher test with a level par winning score, he knows that he’s going to have to make birdies to win his fourth grand slam title.
“Realistically, par would be a very nice score to shoot this week, but it ain’t going to win the tournament,” Harrington said. “Having 72 pars isn’t going to be what you want. You’ve got to make some birdies at some stage. You’ve got to take the attitude that if you make a number of birdies that allows for a certain number of mistakes.”
While he missed the cut at the Masters, Harrington has had four top ten finishes so far this year and believes it is only a matter of time before he string four good rounds together and knocks off a victory.
“My form during the year has been a little bit erratic,” he said. “I am probably playing a little bit better on the range than on the golf course. I have challenged in a number events, which I am happy about but I haven’t finished out any events. But I know what I have got to do in my preparation for a major and so far so good.”
With one eye on his right knee, Harrington has decided to take things easy and after playing 13 holes on Monday, he played the back nine with Waterford amateur Kevin Phelan yesterday and plans another nine holes today before teeing off with Mickelson and US PGA champion YE Yang tomorrow.