Harrington confident he still has major mojo: "They know I can do silly stuff down the stretch"

Harrington confident he still has major mojo: "They know I can do silly stuff down the stretch"
 Pádraig Harrington and his caddie, Ronan Flood, celebrate his win in the 2016 Portugal Masters

Pádraig Harrington and his caddie, Ronan Flood, celebrate his win in the 2016 Portugal Masters

Pádraig Harrington’s Portugal Masters victory hasn’t just reignited his desire to play another Ryder Cup, it’s also reinforced his belief that he can still intimidate the opposition and win at least one more major.

The 45-year old’s one-stroke victory in Vilamoura on Sunday wasn’t just the lowest winning aggregate on the European Tour this year or the lowest of his 21-year European Tour career, it was also a win that gave the three-time major winner confirmation that he’s a more lethal finisher than ever.

Having been cruelly criticised for years for his uncanny ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory — see his 32 runner up finishes for confirmation — he’s become something of an expert closer since he turned 40.

His last runner up finish came in the Irish Open in Killarney in 2010 and since then he’s won four times with Sunday’s 23 under par winning total confirming that not only is he able to gut it out in a birdie-fest, he’s still got the putting game and the nerve to get over the line.

Asked if he felt he could win another major (or majors) before he hangs up his spikes, he said: “I do. I do. I absolutely do. Let’s put it like this: I don’t think anybody wants to see me there. 

“If they were coming down the stretch and I am the other guy, like at the Honda Classic last year, they know I can do silly stuff down the stretch under pressure. 

“That’s something guys are very aware of under pressure. I can hole a bunker shot like I did yesterday — and it was the hardest shot of the week. TV didn’t even do that bunker shot close to justice.”

As far as the nuts and bolts of Sunday’s win are concerned, Harrington is now 97th in the world and 43rd in the Race to Dubai.

And so he’s decided to try and break into the world’s Top 50 by Christmas and secure early Masters and US Open invitations by playing the three Final Series events on the European Tour rather than heading Stateside.

“There are more world ranking points and the golf courses suit me better and that will help me get back into the top 50,” he said of his decision to play next week’s Turkish Airlines Open, the Nedbank Golf Challenge hosted by Gary Player in South Africa and the season-ending DP World Tour Championship, Dubai instead of the PGA Tour’s final three events in Las Vegas, Mexico and Sea Island, Georgia.

I am having an obsessively good time practicing it. Literally, I do spend upwards of two and a half hours on the putting green, obsessively practicing it because of the feedback.
— Pádraig Harrington on putting with a black line on his ball

“I loved Mayakoba in Mexico, but it is very claustrophobic golf course so just like Vilamoura suited me down to the ground, that one doesn’t suit my game."

The Portugal Masters was the perfect storm for Harrington.

"In could see two part to my game improving — the physical side and the putting, which has improved enormously and it was just a question of the two of them coming together," he explained. 

"I knew the capability to have a bumper week were there. And I don’t think you could find a golf course that suited my style of play as well as that one. 

It is not just lightish rough that suits my game, it’s bentgrass rough. The yellow stuff I found on 18 is really difficult to play from. You’ve no control and don’t know if it is going to come out dead or flying and it’s awkward for chipping.  And if it’s around the greens it’s very difficult. 

But what was around the greens in Portugal was fairway grass that had been allowed to grow a little bit longer, and that was quite predictable.

"There isn’t a chip shot I can’t play from that type of grass. For example, Sawgrass used to be all bentgrass and they changed it to bermuda. When it was bentgrass, I finished second two years in a row. Since they changed to bermuda grass, I haven’t finished in the top 10. That’s the perfect example of different styles of golf courses and whether they suit or not."

Winning on Sunday has not forced Harrington to change much more than his schedule. As far as the 2018 Ryder Cup captaincy goes, he's sticking to what he said at Hazeltine as the Americans celebrated that Sunday evening.

It would be a travesty, he feels, to give up two years of his career when he still feels competitive.

“I want to play [in Paris in 2018],” he insisted. “It takes such an effort to be Ryder Cup captain now. It’s a couple of years of your life and selfishly I don’t want to give that up at the moment. I am focussed on playing.”

Winning on Sunday justifies that belief and while he’s missed more cuts in the last four years than in the previous eight put together, his strike rate as far as victories are concerned is now hugely impressive.

 Smile of a champion. Pádraig Harrington was thrilled to win in Portugal

Smile of a champion. Pádraig Harrington was thrilled to win in Portugal

Putting his win down to a better attitude after reading mental coach Dave Alred’s latest book, “The Pressure Principle”, he also pointed to his improved putting as a massive factor in his win.

"Putting? It is very simple. I played last year with Matt Fitzpatrick and Andy Sullivan a couple of times and this year too and they just put a black line on the bal and rolled it.

"I have lawys been a feel putter and never liked doing that. But when you start seeing the young guys coming out and the way they putt, you’ve got to join them.

"Last week I saw PhilMickelson with a black line on his bal. Everyone is lining it up and it gives you so much more feedback. If you roll the ball down the line, it tells you that you did a good job. If you do that and it misses, it’s your read. If it is not rolling properly, it’s stroke. So you're getting that feedback all the time.

"To be honest, one of the things that does it for me, which is maybe different to other people, is that it is giving me such good feedback that I can spend longer practicing doing it. I am having an obsessively good time practicing it.

"Literally, I do spend upwards of two and a half hours on the putting green, obsessively practicing it because of the feedback. It’s hard to get good practice in and get good feedback.

"I read the greens really well and the line shows up ahow well I am reading the greens. It is just great great feedback.

"And I take a good attitiude to my putting too, so there are a few things going on. Personally, I believe I am hitting my mid range putts as well as I have ever hit them in my whole career, I am talking about putts outside 10ft, but inside 25 feet, I am holing more of these putts than I ever holed.

"I know If I want to contend, I can miss only four times inside 8ft — Sorry, it’s stupid to be that direct. I know that when I contend, I only miss about four times inside eight feet in a week. I know then how many I miss inside 15ft and inside 25ft and so on.

"I continually keep my own stats because they show what’s good and what’s not and what it takes to win. It’s never been about hitting fairways and greens. But holing putts, getting up and down and pitching, those are the things that mater to me in a competitive week.

"And the fact that I have been swinging the club [well] — I had been very happy with swinging the golf club — that allowed me more time to focus on my chipping, pitching and mental game over the last few months."

As for the majors, he’s seen enough good signs recently to believe he will have more chances to add to his haul and, who knows, even dream of winning one when he’s 50

“I am in a good place with the majors,” he said. “I had a nice PGA. I had a nice Open Championship. I was having a reasonably good Olympics up until the last round [when he had a neck injury]. 

“At all of these events, I was thinking, these are going nicely without having the week where everything went my way. My performances in those events had the promise that said, if I had a big week, it could make all the difference.”

After Sunday, another big week doesn’t look at all out of the question. 

Not that he has a bet going with close pal Mickelson, who is winless since he won the Scottish Open and The Open in successive weeks in 2013, then lost to Henrik Stenson in that "Duel of the Sons" with Stenson at Royal Troon.

Now 46, Mickelson wants more major wins and has said he'd like to become the first player to win a major in his 50s.

 Harrington's mental approach was one of the keys to his win but he also holed out three times from off the green, including what he said was the toughest shot of the week from green side sand at the 11th.

Harrington's mental approach was one of the keys to his win but he also holed out three times from off the green, including what he said was the toughest shot of the week from green side sand at the 11th.

"It’s not a bad goal, win one in his 50s," Harrington mused, as the subject turned to his recent loss of length, a problem that remains on the drawing board.

"I think winning a major in my 50s would be quite special. But Phil is in exactly the same boat as me. He would nto be able to play golf as a medium hitter. If you made Phil short and straight, he would not be able to compete. He would not enjoy it. He would find it frustrating if you made him 25 yards shorter buton the fairway. 

"Tiger would be the same. He undestands how much the speed makes a huge difference. It dones’t take a special individuial to play a short hitte'rs game but it does take someone who has played that game his whole life to play that game and feel comfortable.

"I know myself, if I am playing a par five and I can’t reach it and some of the field, not the long long hitters, but if the top 20 percent of the field are reaching a par-five and I am not, that is doing my head in.

"And yet I know other players who would be reasonably long andwould go to that same par-five and it would be borderline reachable and they would lay up and they are comfortable doing that. And that is their perogative and that's fine.

"So no, I didn’t quite get my speed back last week. The jury is still out on that. But I certainly worked on a few things that got it back somewhat to normal. But I didn’t have a bumper week off the tee last week. And yet I had more eagle putts last week than in a while - and there were only three par fives. So I hit good drives on par fives a lot of the time and that gave me plenty of opportunities."

As the opposition found of to their cost, he took most of those.