Padraig Harrington hits his approach to the par-four 16th at Portmarnock Hotel and Golf LinksPadraig Harrington looks set to come out fighting in 2011 after putting himself through a gruelling winter training regime.

Ireland’s triple major winner - who was sporting a beard as he tackled Portmarnock Links in a charity Pro-Am on Thursday - says he worked harder than ever during his traditional six-week winter break, which will come to an end on Saturday when he jets out to desert for next week’s Abu Dhabi Championship.

“I had a serious hard-working winter,” said Harrington, who appears likely to remain in the Middle East for the inaugural Volvo Golf Champions in Bahrain from January 27-30. “I did a lot of work in the gym and hit more shots than in previous winters. Why? Because I enjoy doing it.”

Harrington has yet to set his schedule in stone but it appears likely that he will play eight events before the Masters by following his appearances in the desert with six tournaments in an eight-week spell on the PGA Tour.

The 39-year old Dubliner plans to play in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, the Northern Trust Open in Los Angeles and the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship in Tucson. He will then make the run in to Augusta by teeing it up in the WGC Cadillac Championship at Doral, the Transitions Championship in Tampa and the Shell Houston Open at Redstone.

Harrington ended a two year victory drought when he captured the Iskandar Johor Open on the Asian Tour late last year, but he has still fallen from third to 26th in the world since he captured his third major by winning the 2008 US PGA Championship at Oakland Hills.

Fore. Major champion drivingHe played his second round of 2011 in the Links Golf Society’s Waterford Crystal Pro-Am at Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links on Thursday and while he holed virtually nothing on the greens, he still posted a one under par 70 at the testing, Bernhard Langer designed track.

“It was a good day for putts to stay out,” said Harrington, who hopes to see them drop in the desert next week. “I played my first round of golf last Tuesday at Portmarnock, so this is my second round of the year.”

Harrington is the Vice-President of the Links Golf Society, which has raised millions of euro for charity over the past 45 years.

The Portmarnock Links outing was Harrington’s Vice-President’s Prize, which went to former Royal Dublin amateur Niall O Briain with a two under par 69.

The best gross was won by Dara Lernihan (69), who turned professional in the autumn after winning the Irish Amateur Close Championship last summer.

The 23-year old Castle player earned his Alps Tour card last November and while his club plans to hold a fundraiser at the end of March to help him cover his expenses, he earned an easy €25 yesterday by outscoring Harrington on the card by a shot.

“I had a fiver with a friend at 5/1 that I would beat Padraig’s score,” said Lernihan, who was disappointed not to be picked on Ireland’s three-man Eisenhower Trophy team last season following his Irish Close win. “So that’s a nice start to the year.”

Lernihan failed to get through the first stage of the European Tour Qualifying School by two shots and ended up entering the Alps Tour Qualifying School on a whim.

He explained: “I wasn’t going to go out but Richard Kilpatrick and Gavin Dear from Scotland were saying definitely go, it’s a good Tour, supposedly better run than the Europro, though I don’t know much about either. So I said I’d go over, had a good week and played well.”
The Alps Tour will crank up in the second week in March and Lernihan plans to prepare by playing four events on the Hi5 Pro Tour in Spain in February.

He will be joined on the Alps Tour by Kilpatrick, Lurgan’s Gareth Shaw and Ballyliffin’s Brendan McCarroll and hopes to win one of five Challenge Tour cards on offer to the leading finishers on the money list at the end of the season.

Dara Lernihan will play on the Alps Tour in 2011Most young Irish players fail to make it in the pro ranks but Lernihan reckons he’s a late developer and he’s received great encouragement from his close friend Shane Lowry, who has carved out a solid European Tour career since he sensationally won the European Tour’s 3 Irish Open as an amateur in 2009.

“I never played for the Irish Boys team or anything and progressively I’ve got better and just keep improving so I’ve decided to go for it for a few years,” added Lernihan, who no better than a five-handicapper at the age of 15. “I didn’t come into it late but I never really played in the boys tournaments or the Irish boys team.

“But the first year in youths I won one of the championships and after that I got better. I don’t know what it was. I just started hanging around with better players, all my friends were on the Irish team and that drives you on.”

Lowry was due to caddy for his pal yesterday but have injured his wrist in a fall earlier this month, he is out of action until the start of February at the earliest.

“Shane would be saying to me ‘there’s fellas out there that you are better than so just give it a lash, give it a try’,” Lernihan explained. “I’m looking forward to playing this year because there will be more parkland golf. A lot of the amateur golf, I felt I was playing well but you get a bad bounce, it’s blowing a gale, you miss a little putt – you can judge a little better how you’re doing I think.”

As for his exit from the amateur ranks and his disappointment at not getting picked for the three-man Eisenhower Trophy team, Lernihan appears to be happy that he will be playing for pay from now on.
“Yeah, I was pretty disappointed with that,” he said of his Eisenhower Trophy snub. “At least now I’m playing for myself. You’re not thinking about trying to get on teams and stuff, you’re just trying to shoot as low as you can.”

Hoping he can become a more prolific winner, he said: “I should have won more (amateur) tournaments but was just doing stupid things. I’d prefer to win on the pro tours than as an amateur.”