PERFECTIONIST Padraig Harrington is hoping to repeat a Muirfield masterclass the Irishman describes as “gold standard”, even though it left him agonisingly short in the last Claret Jug joust in East Lothian.
When Ernie Els triumphed 11 years ago, Harrington missed out on the four-man play-off by a shot after taking a bogey at the last in a closing 67, having started the final round six shots adrift of the South African.
“It was a strange week for me because I never hit the ball as well continually tee-to-green, but I had an awful time around and on the greens,” recalled the Dubliner ahead of this week’s return.
“I walked away feeling like it was an out-of-body experience, playing so good in one part of my game and so average and poor in the other that I did the exact opposite of how I normally play golf. For a number of years afterwards, I don’t know if it curtailed my ability to go forward, because I held that up as the gold standard. Maybe even today I still hold it up as the gold standard, but I didn’t know how to figure it out and recreate it until the US Open at Winged Foot four years later where I felt I had the formula to bring the best out of my game.”
Harrington didn’t win on that occasion either, finishing two shots behind Australian Geoff Ogilvy, but both those experiences proved invaluable as he transformed his career by claiming three major titles in a 14-month spell. “Winning majors doesn’t happen quite as often as you think, even in a great career, so the one piece of advice I give to anyone who wins one is make the most of it and enjoy it. I certainly celebrated my three,” he said of back-to-back Open Championship wins in 2007 and 2008, when he also claimed the USPGA title.
“I played a practice round with Nick Faldo at Augusta in 1999. He had already won his sixth major, but he was trying so hard to win one more. I hope I’m not that person. I’ll never not be trying, but you have to stand back at times and say, ‘three is pretty good, let’s enjoy that’.
“If you look at my contemporaries, Tiger [Woods] has won 14 and then you’ve got Ernie [Els] and Phil [Mickelson] with four each, so you really don’t win that many. I’m surely trying to win more, but I’m also trying to adopt the attitude that very few win one or get past one and that’s highlighted by the fact that only three guys playing at the moment have won more than three.
“And it took some of them 20 years, which gives me great confidence, because winning majors is a far from consistent thing, as we saw in 2009 when Tom Watson very nearly got his ninth. But I need to accept that I’ve done well as it is and a fourth one isn’t going to make the first three any better.”