Els on Pádraig: "Once a winner, always a winner"

Ernie Els speaks to the media at Merion on Monday. Picture via @GAofPhillyNearly five years have passed since Pádraig Harrington captured his third major title.

But having waited more than a decade to win his fourth, two-time US Open winner Ernie Els does not rule out seeing the Dubliner end his major drought at a soggy Merion this week.

A move to the belly putter just four weeks ago may have come too late to make Harrington one of the favourites to lift the 113th US Open. But Els is a big admirer of the 41-year old Irishman and having wielded the belly putter en route to victory in the Open at Royal Lytham and St Annes last July, he’s not ruling Harrington out of the running by any means.

“Once a winner, always a winner,” Els said at Merion yesterday. “It is just about recapturing those old feelings.

“Getting back in the winner’s circle is physical but it’s also mental and I think Padraig’s right on track.

“I like Pádraig and he’s always sure of himself and where he wants to go. He’s made a lot of changes in his swing since 2008 and obviously he’s changed his putting now.

“That’s just stuff we all go through - we have to make changes sometimes. But when he gets comfortable I think he will be ready.”

Whether this week’s US Open has come too soon for Harrington remains to be seen. But Els has no doubt that the Dubliner’s confidence in his putting can only increase.

“I’m not sure what’s going on in other people’s minds, but he’s finding that he’s making more putts, that’s why he’s using the anchored putting method,” Els said.  

“If he’s gone to a different style of putting, obviously he had a putting problem.  So obviously he’s feeling better and I see he played good last week.  

“He’s experienced.  When he gets sharp, he can win at any point.”

Harrington was pleased with his performance in the FedEx St Jude Championship in Memphis, where he eventually finished tied for 10th.

And as Els hinted, the Dubliner senses that his best golf is close now that he’s started holing more putts.

“My game is definitely on the up,” Harrington said after taking just 23 putts in a third round 65 in the FedEx St Jude Classic.  “There’s no doubt about it.  I feel like I’m better in control of my game and my swing.

“My short game is sharp and the putting, which has been my Achilles heel over last year, has definitely improved since I’ve gone to the belly putter.”

Building on last week’s performance is now the key for Harrington but despite Els’ fears for Merion following torrential rain that flood the course on Friday and again, the Irish star still believes it will be another US Open grind.

“That’s why I come to the tournament the week before the US Open,” he said as he left Memphis on Sunday night.  “I want to test my game under a bit of stress.

“It’s the sort of feels like you want when you’re going into [a major]. It was a tough day and a grind out there and it’s going to be a grind next week.”