Harrington sees good days ahead

Pádraig Harrington might be a little older and frayed around the edges but quality never goes away and he truly believes he’s got some good days ahead after he held his game together and got himself onto the fringes of contention for the PGA Championship in New Jersey.

While he eventually finished tied 13th on six under par after rounds of 71, 70, 65 and 68 —eight strokes behind Jimmy Walker— he senses that his putting and mental game have improved to such an extent that he heads to the Travelers Championship in Florida and on to Rio for the Olympics feeling like he can be a true contender again.

“I am (excited),” he said. "I gave myself the goal during the summer that I had three majors — the Open, the PGA and the Olympics — that if I got my preparation right I would be in contention in at least one of them. I hope this isn’t the one. I hope I will go down the Olympics and give it a good run.

"This certainly gives me the confidence that I can hit the shots when I am feeling a little bit of tension because that’s very important for players. It is hard to win out of the blue unless you are feeling it coming in. Another week next week (at the Travelers), where I have some sort of pressure and tension, will put me in good stead for the Olympics. 

"My good play has been coming there is no doubt about it. I have been very happy with my game for a while. My putting has turned around quite a bit and that allows me more time and freedom to work on my mental side. And that’s turned around. So it is amazing how all these things come together. It is like buses, they all come at once.”

Harrington went out for his final round on four under and well before Jimmy Walker completed a third round 68 that gave him a one-shot lead over Jason Day on 11 under par.

But with few of the fourth round starters in contention bar the Dubliner, he was the focus of TV coverage for the first few hours of the final round coverage until it became apparent that he wasn’t going to set a frightening target in double digits under par.

“I was obviously happy with a good score yesterday.,” he said. "I kept my head in the game all day. I know I didn’t have a chance of winning but it felt like I had a chance of winning so I was out there playing like I was right there in touch.

“So it was good golf under those circumstances and most of the day I was very comfortable and in nice positions, gave myself some chances. I didn’t have a bad day on the greens but one or two more could have dropped.

"I look back I could have holed a few more putts, but I probably came out of the round neutral. That's probably what I deserved. Would have been nice to birdie the last. If I birdied, I would have probably wanted to eagle it. Such is the nature of the game.

I would like to take this into every day I play the next number of years. I’m going to take this attitude and I feel like I’m in a great place.
— Pádraig Harrington

"Probably played my best on Thursday and shot the worst score, which is interesting. Six-under is probably a good return on the week. It's obviously not good enough. If it hangs into top 10, it certainly pushes me up in the FedExCup playoffs, which is nice to know my schedule. Happy about that.”

Harrington is not into the first FedExCup event just yet but a move from 140th to 129th gives him an excellent chance of qualifying with a good performance this week at the Travelers Championship before he heads to Brazil.

As a Ryder Cup vice-captain, Harrington was loathe to say anything about Rory McIlroy or the Co Down man’s putting, which he might not do anyway.

“That’s the magic question, isn’t it?" he said. "Everybody would like to sort out their putting and putt better. I would like to putt better. It’s a hard one. 

"In 2012, I was at a very low point in my putting and that's kind of has made me a much more tentative putter ever since. Is it a question of practicing more? Is it a questioning of practicing less and relaxing about it? Who knows. If I had the solution, I would be bottling it.”

Asked if McIlroy could work out his problems alone, Harrington said: "Honestly, I have no idea. I didn't (know) he was putting badly. I had no idea. I couldn't tell you whatsoever. I just have been clueless.”

Harrington was positive about his putting at Baltusrol but few dropped on Sunday when he needed them most.

While he almost holed his second shot at the fifth, hitting the pin from around 170 yards from heavy rough, and then played a miraculous, 35-yard bunker shot to save par from a plugged lie at the sixth, there was little magic with the short stick.

“I was comfortable with my putting today,” he insisted.. "I got in the right place. For the first eight holes…  every putt I hit could have gone in, ran by the hole three feet. I was very aggressive. I nearly holed a shot on one hole. To only make two birdies in the first eight holes, I nearly made two chip-ins as well. 

Probably hit one of the best shots in my life on the 6th hole. I had plugged lie from 35 yards on a upslope of the bunker. I went wedge and went after it which was nice. I didn't back off.

"There was a lot of nice shots out there, a lot of nice playing. There was a lot of nice putting. I certainly was comfortable with my putting today. As you saw there was two putts that came up short in the middle of the round, which would have been nice. 

"I hit them fine, I putted well. I'd take putting like this every day. I'd take playing like this every day. I’m not walking away from this second guessing anything. 

"I'm very comfortable with the way I played. If I continue to play like this every day, there’s good days ahead for me.

"So many things are better. I'm happy with my swing, getting a lot better with my putting, getting a lot better with my mental side. The only thing I’m not comfortable with would be my short game.

"Then when I look at the PGA Tour, I'm No. 1 in bunkers and No. 4 in strokes gained around the greens, but I don't see it so good. Maybe I need to change my attitude. 

"Everything else is good. I feel good. I would like to take this into every day I play the next number of years. I’m going to take this attitude and I feel like I'm in a great place."