Harrington will seek Irish Open inspiration again

PADRAIG HARRINGTON will make his first competitive start on European soil in 2008 in the Irish Open at Adare Manor Hotel and Golf Resort from May 15-18.

As in 2007, he will be coming straight from the Tournament Players Championship at Sawgrass to defend his title.

Fifth in the Masters at Augusta at the weekend, he can expect a hero’s welcome from the home fans at the only European Tour event to be played in Ireland this year when he attempts to emulate the feat of Nick Faldo who retained The Irish Open title while Open Champion 15 years ago.

The entry this year will be much stronger than in 2007, not least because precious Ryder Cup points will be at stake in a handsome prize fund of €2.5 million. Ulstermen Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell missed the tournament last year for unavoidable reasons but both have indicated their intention of playing, as has three times champion Colin Montgomerie.

Many others, including Paul Casey and David Howell of the 2006 European side currently struggling to accumulate cup points, are also certain to play at Adare.

Harrington’s remarkable 2007 season gained momentum with a thrilling play-off victory over Welshman Bradley Dredge, with 1982 champion John O’Leary among the first to congratulate Padraig as the 25 year wait for a home winner came to an end.

Two months later, Ireland was celebrating again as Harrington prevailed in a four hole play-off against Spain’s Sergio Garcia to win The Open Championship at Carnoustie and become the first Irishman to lift the Claret Jug since Fred Daly 60 years earlier. Padraig has always stated that his win at Adare Manor was instrumental in his Open Championship victory and both successes have an unique place in the 36 year old Dubliner’s memory.

“As it turned out the Irish Open victory meant more than even I realised at the time,” he said yesterday on his arrival home from the US and heading into a three week break from the competitive arena. “Initially I was euphoric about winning an Irish Open. I had been trying for at least ten years. I always found it very difficult to handle the pressure, the distractions and the general hype of an Irish Open. Years of that building up, the fact that no Irishman had won it in 25 years, the media hype going into the event and then to actually finally win the tournament was ever so big for me.

“I don’t think I would have ever felt as if I had a true career unless I had gone on to win the Irish Open. Also, going into Adare Manor having won the JP McManus Pro-Am there in 2005, I knew I liked the golf course and it was perhaps my best chance to win the tournament. In many ways, that added to the expectation, and then the excitement of winning.

“The 18th at Adare in front of the Manor is a great setting and winning the play-off was a beautiful moment for me. That’s how I felt at the time but little did I know how much of an effect it would have on the rest of my year. It definitely was a big catalyst for going on to win the Open. I definitely felt more comfortable and I gained self confidence from that win.

“The Irish Open is the fifth biggest tournament in the world to me. You have the four majors and then to win an Irish Open is right up there. I would have found it harder to live without winning an Irish Open than without a major. A major is a lofty goal in anybody’s book. A lot of players have very good careers without winning a major but winning my National Open, something with so much focus on it, was something I had to do.”

“The key is that it is not a normal week. It took me a long time to realise that. For many years I kept trying to treat the Irish Open like it was a normal week and the one thing it isn’t is normal. I finally accepted that I wouldn’t be able to spend the time practising the week of the tournament, couldn’t spend the time on the range or the putting green and couldn’t spend the time I would normally in the gym.”

Dublin clothing company Kartel, one of Harrington’s long time sponsors, are to be the official clothing sponsors of the Irish Open. This year’s proud partners are Failte Ireland, McNamara, McInerneys and Road Bridge and the official sponsors are Audi, Limerick County Council, Shannon Development and Rolex.

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