Two-time champion Pádraig Harrington is bracing himself for a serious driving test in The Open when he chases a third Claret Jug at Royal Lytham and St Annes from July 19-22.
The 40-year old Dubliner, who finished 18th in 1996 and 37th behind David Duval on The Open’s last visit to the Lancashire course in 2001, played a practice round at the 7,086-yard, par-70 track on Wednesday.
Peppered by more than 200 bunkers, the course has been lengthened by 181 yards with all but two holes undergoing changes since Duval beat Niclas Fasth by three shots on a 6,905-yard, par-71 layout 11 years ago.
And Harrington knows that he will have to be at his best off the tee and have his fade in full working order if he is to add another major to his haul.
“We got a lovely day for it and it was running. Somebody who drives the ball straight is going to have a great time here,” Harrington said. “But you have got to be able to control how far it is going because there are a lot of slight dog-legs and the ball can run 40 or 50 yards. It only stops running when it hits something and that could be a bunker.
“Anybody who can predict how far they are going to hit the golf ball will do well around here. Just booming drives won’t work because they could run 60 or 70 yards and you’ll often find the front of a bunker if you do that.
“You’d love to drive it well that’s for sure. If you could somehow avoid the bunkers for the week you could do very well on this golf course.”
The biggest changes were made to the seventh, 10th and 11th holes. The 10th has been stretched by 52 yards while the seventh is 35 yards longer and has a completely new green. The 11th now measures 592 yards - 56 yards longer than last time.
The only holes that have not been changed are the par-4 fourth and par-3 12th and while the sixth is still 492 yards, the same length as 2001, it will play as a par-four instead of a par-five.
Harrington reckons it’s the toughest hole on the course, explaining: “The sixth is very difficult because of the angle. There are two bunkers on the right hand side and you are hitting across the corner and everything is running towards those two bunkers. It’s a par-five green as well so the sixth is easily the toughest hole on the course, certainly the toughest hole on the course to hit the fairway and hit the green.”
Harrington added: “I didn’t see much rough and it doesn’t need a huge amount of rough because of the bunkers. Any time you take out the driver and have go at it, if you are successful and hit it down the fairway, you could be hitting a wedge into the hole.
“Miss that fairway though and you could be chipping out of the bunker and then hitting wedge into the hole.”
Harrington is driving the ball further and straighter than ever but he’s more interested in shaping it off the tee for Royal Lytham, which will host Europe’s top amateurs at the Lytham Trophy this weekend.
Addressing his driving, Harrington said. “When I am missing the fairways I am not hitting too many wides. The ball is generally going where I expect it to go and I have tightened up my dispersion.
“I may be hitting a fairway or two more but my dispersion is better, full stop. I am not somebody who is going to hit 14 fairways and 18 greens. I am a bit too aggressive for that. I am always going for it, especially into greens.
“I do like the look of the course but you are going to have very good control off the tee. It is a fader’s golf course and that suits me. I am happy with that.”