Harrington fears Merion: "They’ll have to go easy on us"

Pádraig Harrington rakes a bunker at Merion. Picture: Eoin Clarke www.golffile.ieExperience is everything in a US Open, which is why Pádraig Harrington is a sneaky outside bet to consign his five-year major drought to history and become the third Irish winner in four years.

It might sound far-fetched to expect the Dubliner to produce the goods under the gun having only put the belly putter in his bag for the first time five weeks ago.

Yet Harrington is comfortable with the long stick already and has no qualms about leaving it in the bag this week.

And despite talk of a “short” and soft Merion being subjected to an unmerciful hammering by the game’s elite, Harrington believes that it’s the players who will be crying out for mercy come tomorrow night.

“It’s a big tough track,” the Dubliner said before blasting a fairway wood down the par-five second having tugged his first effort with a three-wood into the deep jungle on the left.

“There’s a lot of really long holes. There’s some nice short holes. If there ever was a week you could leave your six, seven, eight iron out of the bag, this would be it. You hardly hit them. There’s a lot of long irons on the par fours and off the short par fours off the tee.

And the talk of a 62? “I don’t see any of that, no.”

Far from defenceless, little old Merion packs one hell of a punch into its 6,996 yards.

“Oh yeah, they’ll have to go easy on us,” Harrington said as contemplated the pitch mark his fairway wood had left in the second fairway, a yard in front of his ball. “It’s showing its teeth in a different way.”

If anyone had any illusions that Merion 2013 was going to be a “boutique” US Open, they’ve had a wake up call. It may be boutique in terms of its limited crowd capacity on a 111-acre site, but the course is anything but short.

Pádraig Harrington hits a fairway wood on the eve of the 113th US Open at Merion. Picture: Eoin Clarke www.golffile.ie“You know what you’re going to get when you come to a US Open,” said Harrington, who is pleased with his game having finished 10th in Memphis last week. “Maybe everybody was thinking this was going to be something different. Well, it’s not. It’s pretty much the same.

“I’ve seen 7,500 yards courses play shorter than this one. There’s 3-woods into par fours and a driver into a par three yesterday - the 256-yard third.

“It’s plenty hard. They don’t even need to hide pins right now. Though they might do it if they have to later on in the week.”

Harrington’s form was poor last year yet he came within a whisker of forcing a play-off. Needing a birdie at the last, he made bogey instead as he fired at the pin.

“I was pretty close,” he said. “I’d love to have an up-and-down at the last to get into a playoff. I’d take that right now. I’d take my chances.”

US Opens normally suit straight drivers of the ball and while Harrington agrees that keeping it in the short grass is key, he doesn’t see the course favouring one type of player over another.

“It really is hard to tell. Like all golf courses, if you hit it long, it’s going to be helpful but with the shorter holes, you’ve got some wedge shots. It’s going to suit somebody who plays well.”

Harrington certainly doesn’t rule out Rory McIlroy.

“Rory’s very straight. He regularly would be up there. Even though Rory might not hit all the fairways he’s not hitting it unplayable. He’s certainly an option.”

Drawn with Sergio Garcia, the man he out-putted to win the most recent of his three majors at the US PGA in 2008, Harrington’s fate may well rest with his belly putter.

Asked how “the great unmentionable” was going, he said: “It’s not unmentionable to me. I’m happy with it. If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t have it in there.

“It was a straightforward decision to go to the belly putter. I’ve a SAM-putting system at home and when I measure my putting stroke with the normal putter and that putter, it was better with that putter, though it didn’t feel better. It was just a question of getting used to the feel.

“Once you’re convinced it’s better then you’ll stick to it. It has some other positives as well in terms of set-up. It gets you into the same setup position and is good in getting you committed to the line.

“I think I’m putting better, yes. I’d be quite happy with all aspects of my game. My wedge play seems to have gone off on this soft turf from last week, which was a bit hard. That’s the only thing concerning me at the moment.

“Outside of that, I’m comfortable with everything else, though obviously the wedge play is a big part of it. It only came on yesterday. I know how to sort it out but I wish it came on Monday.”