While he dismisses suggestions that his fifth victory in this event is a “formality”, it would be nothing short of sensational if he were not to emerge a clear winner after today’s final round. Rounds of 75, 68 and 70 have moved him to even par and six clear of the pursuing pack.
Philip Walton expressed an ambition at the halfway stage of the championship to play with Harrington before the end of the week and it has now been realised. Yesterday’s 73 leaves the 1995 Ryder Cup hero in second place on his own on 219, six over par, and tied for third. Two shots further back are Waterville’s David Higgins, who came through the field nicely with a best-of-the-day 69, with veteran Eamonn D’Arcy and Greenore professional Robert Giles.
Harrington admitted that he was slow into his stride, and indeed he had to chip and putt for a bogey at the short 2nd. He then three putted the long 3rd for par and went two over for the day by driving into sand at the 4th. The highlight of his outward journey came at the brutally-difficult 7th, where he hit the centre of the fairway with his hybrid club before punching a seven iron to a yard for a rare birdie.
He gave that shot back by missing the green to the right at the 9th to be out in two over 38. However, he was back to even par for the day when he launched a huge three-wood drive down the 596-yard 13th and followed with a crunching five iron of 207 yards to eight feet for eagle. He rolled in a 15-footer at the 17th for birdie to get to level pegging overall and duly came home in three under 32 for a very solid round of 70.
“The target for the day was to get back under par and I’m close enough to that,” he reacted. “I’m happy that this is proving ideal preparation for next week. Today was great, the greens had speeded up after being a little too soft for the first two days. There wasn’t too much wind but enough to make you think on every shot.
“I’m not 100% happy with everything but I couldn’t have done any more in my preparation. It’s on track. I worked on something with my coach a couple of weeks ago and I’ve definitely overdone that a little bit. I was struggling a bit to hold the ball up in the left to right winds. I was getting the club face open at the top of my back swing but I always like to have something to lean on and keep my mind occupied and it will do that for the next number of days.”
Because he’s not getting the strike he wants, Harrington has to focus more and feels this is a good thing, hitting a lot of good shots because of that.
And then there was his short game, with which he is rarely happy, no matter how well things may be going.
“I chipped better today and that’s a very good thing because I felt it was a little weak the last few weeks. That’s positive going into next week,” he said. “I only used the driver once today because I felt there was nowhere to hit it. This is a golf course where you have to get the ball in play. Every time you hit it in a bunker, it’s the same as a penalty shot.
“I would prefer to get the driver out and hit it a bit more but the opportunity isn’t there. Also, when you do hit driver, you’re cutting across a dogleg with the wind going the wrong way. Like the 13th, I hit three wood and five iron, although I did hit that particularly well, and it went probably as far as my driver. It’s a right-to-left dogleg in a left-to-right wind and you have to aim at the trouble on the left. If you let it go in the wind, it will travel into the trouble on the right.”
An interesting demonstration of how the Open champion thinks his way around a golf course and why you have an ever increasing belief that he is playing himself into the right place at very much the right time.
“There will be more drivers at Birkdale,” he stated. “It’s a bigger, flatter test. The fairways are much flatter and you will be using driver a lot but it’s the same sort of focus as here. There are times when you’re taking a little bit off a shot to keep it short of a bunker or you’re trying to carry another bunker. It’s the same sort of way of plotting your way around and next week will be the same, even though it may be a driver rather than a three wood off the tee”.
Harrington described it as “a big bonus” to get his round closed on Thursday night, even though it was literally pitch dark as he holed out on his final hole at 10.28pm for a 68. Overall, he clearly feels that coming here was the correct decision in spite of the massive difference between the purse available in the IPGA (€70,000) as against the €4 million in the Scottish Open at Loch Lomond.
“I’m not peaking too early,” he declared. “Out of 10, I’m six or seven at the moment. I’m happy with my preparation and looking forward to doing a bit of work with Bob Rotella next week and settling a few issues in my own head. This week has been good and I’d like to be more like this all the time and that’s what I’m going to discuss with Bob.”
David Higgins showed a welcome return to form with yesterday’s 69 that contained five birdies including a hat-trick from the second.