Pádraig Harrington needs a top 15 finish at the Alfred Dunhill Links to get close to the top 60 in the Race to Dubai who will qualify for the season ending DP World Tour Championship.
The good news for a player who is in freeefall in the world rankings and missed the cut in six of his last eight starts is that he’s unhappy with his game and living in fear once more.
With his presence in the remaining regular season events unclear - he’s not entered for the Portugal Masters, faces a trip to Bermuda for the PGA Grand Slam of Golf the following Monday and may not qualify for any of the events in The Final Series - the 42-year old Dubliner desperately needs a big week.
Ranked 95th in the world, Harrington’s mantra for much of the season is that he’s been playing well in practice but simply can’t take his A game to the course or play with the fear that once drove him on.
Now he’s hoping that the opposite applies.
“I’ve been happy with my game all year, and it hasn’t done me any good,” said the 2002 and 2006 Dunhill Links winner. “But I’m not happy with it now, so we’ll see if my results can improve.
“I’ve talked in the past about getting the fear back, because that’s when I’ve tended to play my best golf, and that may have happened.”
Harrington’s putting has clearly let him down for the past number of years and it remains to be seen if he can find that crucial element of his game and compete again.
His predicament brings back memories of his comments following his second win in the Open at Royal Birkdale in 2008, when he revealed a lot about what makes him tick.
“My qualities go back to determination, fortitude, my ability to work through things,” he said. “My ability to look at things, sort them out, find the good in them.
“My ability to overcome. I have never looked like I had the sort of surface talent that many stars of the future look like they have.
“As I said, I can always remember when I was 18 years of age, after dominating in boys golf, I wasn’t picked on a 20-man panel in Ireland for under 21s.
“I wasn’t considered good enough to make the top 20 under 21 players in Ireland. At the time I was probably the best player in Ireland and went on to make the full international team that year.
“It wasn’t that I wasn’t good enough to be on the team but it was amazing that on the surface, whoever was picking that panel could find reasons that maybe my swing didn’t look right, there was something about it that they could come to the conclusion that I wasn’t good enough to be on a 20 man panel, which kind of sets the tone.
“Considering how much I had won at that stage, it was an interesting decision how they could come to that conclusion. I think in many ways over the years I have had to deal with that situation.”
Harrington has had to deal with the doubters at every stage of his career and consistently proved them wrong.
He explained: “A lot of people take the first look and think, oh well, he is getting up and down a lot so that is going to fall apart eventually.
“Or he looks as though he is working awful hard and fighting a lot to do that score. He is getting the most out of it, that won’t last.
“I have seen that to my advantage and worked on some of the other areas of the game to build a more complete model. I think I have learnt over the years that it is a more important what is underneath the surface.
“Under the surface talent is what is more important than what is on the top. You can always learn the ability to his a golf ball.
“What’s important is the ability to think and adapt and work your way forward, to handle the off days to get through the slow periods.
“The mental strength is far more important than talent unless everything goes very well. If you start off and get on a hot streak and never look back, it is always great to find hitting a golf ball the easiest thing in the world.
“But when that breaks down it is harder for those players to come back. The guys who have a bit of a work ethic and have always had to work on their own game and figure out and work through it a bit at times are the ones that last a little longer.”
Harrington’s mental strength is being tested to the limit right now but he will get some light relief this week when he tees it up with JP McManus hoping to win the team title for a third time.
“Absolutely, I’ve won both the individual and the team event twice, so it’d be nice to get another win on the board. And obviously these golf courses do suit me —hopefully things will click into place this week.
“St Andrews is obviously the Home of Golf, so that’s the one the guys all really look forward to playing. But the other two are both beautiful courses in their own right. Depending on the conditions, the wind and the day, it can be tough and usually we have a few chances early on the week, and Sunday pin positions will be a bit tighter.
“Carnoustie is always a very tough golf course. It’s a golf course you’ve got to respect. You’re always trying to post a solid score and not lose your tournament out there.
“Kingsbarns is a joy to play, and given the right conditions, it is probably the easiest. I think at times you can get an awkward wind that will take the par 5s out of reach, but once the par 5s are in reach, you can make some nice birdies. So that’s the course you want to take advantage of if you can.”
“[JP] most certainly is [excited]. You know, it would be nice to try to get another one, so we look forward to it. It’s good for me and keeps me competitive during the week; if I’m not doing well in the individual tournament, I’m obviously focusing on the team event and trying to get us up there.
“Certainly helps you keep a good mindset all the way through the tournament.”
Ireland has a 10-man presence this week with players such as Peter Lawrie and David Higgins battling to save their cards.
Lawrie has missed six of his last seven cuts and his last four on the trot to find himself 109th in the Race to Dubai with just three events remaining to finish in the the Top-110 who keep their cards.
Higgins is 111th but full of confidence following his runner up finish in the Italian Open last week.
Shane Lowry, 42nd in the Race to Dubai, will be looking for a big week to move up the world and Ryder Cup rankings following the disappoinment of his non-qualification for next week’s Seve Trophy.
Irish in action - Round 1
Darren Clarke and Selwyn Nathan
Padraig Harrington and J.P. McManus
Paul McGinley and Kyle MacLachlan
Peter Lawrie and John Hegarty
Damien McGrane and Daniel James
Michael Hoey and Bill Farish, Jr.
Gareth Maybin and Robert Hissom
Simon Thornton and Charlie McCreevy
Shane Lowry and Gerry McManus
David Higgins and Cian Foley.