Pádraig Harrington’s major winning game appears to be as elusive as the Loch Ness monster these days but the Dubliner will know on Sunday night if he is capable of winning a third Open Championship when he leaves Inverness after the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open at Castle Stuart.
Amid heated debate over Graeme McDowell’s brutally honest assessement during the Irish Open that the Scottish Open has “lost cachet” since it left Loch Lomond, Harrington pointed out that the difference between the Scottish Open and the Irish Open with regard to the links venue is sponsorship.
“Aberdeen Asset Management are the one who are saying, yeah, we are going to play on a links golf course,” he said. “They are the ones who are financially supporting it so that we don’t have to go to a parkland golf course who is prepared to put something into the purse. Essentially they are covering it.
“So, yeah, if there was an unlimited support in Ireland, the purse, we probably would be playing links every time, but we go to a parkland golf course every so often, purely based on a financial — to make it work. We don’t have the luxury The Scottish Open has with a great sponsor like Aberdeen Asset Management.”
The field might weak by the standards set by previous Scottish Opens at Loch Lomond but it’s still not bad at all with world No 8 Phil Mickelson and Open champion Ernie Els heading an 11-strong posse from the world’s top 50.
Add to that the presence of a three-time major winner like Harrington and the stunning setting and the Scottish tourism authorities are likely to be pleased when the event becomes the first regular European Tour event to be shown live on a major US TV broadcast network “following the signing of an historic agreement with NBC which will complement the existing coverage on the Golf Channel.”
The absence of more of the game’s great players continues to be a head scratcher for many and Harrington certainly can’t understand why more top players do not hone their games for The Open by playing a tournament on a links course the previous week.
But the 41-year old Dubliner, who was again using his gadgets on the range at Castle Stuart, could care less so long as he’s ready for Muirfield on Sunday evening.
Asked when he would know if he is ready to win Open Championship number three and major number four, Harrington said: “Sunday night here.
“If I finish up here Sunday night, content with my game, I know I can win next week. The last thing I want to be doing is walking away from this tournament trying to find something on Monday morning.
“You don’t want to go through a Major trying to find it. It has been done, but it’s very rare that you go turn up at a Major tournament and find it.
“You’re all about getting your preparation done and be content leading the tournament the week before. And as I said, for me, playing a competitive tournament is the only way I can get a good indicator of the state of my game.”
Harrington won the Irish PGA on a links the week before claiming the Open in 2007 and 2008 but he has fared less well since adding the Scottish Open to his schedule after it moved to a links in 2011.
Tied for 14th behind Luke Donald in 2011 and joint 16th behind Jeev Milkha Singh, he went on to miss the cut in the Open at Sandwich before taking 39th place at Royal Lytham and St Annes last year.
The world No 72 certainly needs a couple of big weeks if he’s to break into the Top 50 again and secure his place in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone in August.
If that doesn’t change, he’s committed to the clashing Reno-Tahoe Open on the PGA Tour for the second year in a row.
“Well, I wouldn’t be here unless it was on a links golf course,” Harrington said. “There’s no doubt, as much as I grew up playing links golf as a kid, you do need to re-familiarise yourself with it. I do know how to hit the shots on a links golf course, standing there with a 6-iron from 139 yards.
“Yeah, you’re saying that’s right, but you have to trust it, as well, and the best way to trust it is play links golf. And then on top of that, play links golf in a competitive environment where you only get one go at it.
“So there will be shots hit this week, you’ll see it on TV, guys will pick the right shot; they just won’t trust it and they will be kicking themselves afterwards. I’d rather make that mistake this week than next week.”
Drawn with Mickelson and Stephen Gallacher for the first two rounds, Harrington is joined in Scotland by Shane Lowry, David Higgins, Peter Lawrie, Damien McGrane, Simon Thornton, Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley, Michael Hoey, Gareth Maybin and Darren Clarke.
Clarke, who has slipped to 407th in the world since winning The Open two years ago, is making just his ninth start of the year having missed the cut in his last three events.