As the pair both exited the BMW PGA Championship on Friday evening, alongside Ireland’s other major champions Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke, they offered contrasting ideas about how to conduct tournament play when the chance of victory has long since disappeared.
On the way to each shooting 79s as the wind got up on Wentworth’s tough West Course it had become clear that neither would be making the cut in the European Tour’s flagship event, let alone getting into contention.
However, Harrington’s greater experience and natural instincts taught him to keep on grinding, battling on every hole and striving to squeeze the best out of every shot.
“You never know when you’re going to need it, or when you need to dig deep,” Harrington explained. “I might say to (caddie) Ronan (Flood) ‘no need to worry about today’ but my point is I’ll still be trying. Every shot counts and I’m trying on every shot.”
As three major victories to his name will attest, a good memory of a well-executed shot can pay huge dividends, and no more so than during Harrington’s first major breakthrough at the 2007 Open Championship at Carnoustie.
“If you want the absolute answer, I hit two balls into the hazard on the 72nd hole of a tournament and I managed to hit the best chip shot of my life and one of the best putts of my life. That’s when it matters. That’s why I never give up.
“I’ve seen people give up on a golf course and nobody cares. There’s no fun and there’s no pride in that, it only makes it worse if you give away shots and you don’t try.
“You never know when one shot or one putt will stand to you, regardless of the circumstances in which it is played. Like the chip shot at the last (on Friday), that’s going to give me confidence going into the next tournament. I hit a great chip shot and I’m going to go away from that feeling good about my chipping.”
Coming from a golfer who had carded three bogeys on the final four holes, that is both maddening and inspirational and the ever positive Harrington added: “You’d be surprised where you gain confidence from.
“Take the high draw I hit off the 17th tee. That’s probably the first time I’ve ever hit the fairway in my life and again that’s going to give me confidence. I don’t hit that shot very often but it’s going to give me confidence the next time I have to hit a draw on another hole.”
Harrington will next be in action in Memphis next week, tuning up for the US Open at the Fedex St Jude Classic.
Defending US Open champion McIlroy, meanwhile, will play this week’s Memorial tournament at Muirfield Village in Ohio having missed his second cut in succession.
Early finishes at TPC Sawgrass in The Players Championship and then at Wentworth saw the 23-year-old ousted by Luke Donald as world number one and admit he had “taken his eye off the ball” in terms of his preparations.
All part of the learning curve for a young professional, of course, and a kink the Holywood talent will no doubt quickly iron out but his approach to the back nine of his second round at Wentworth, having double-bogeyed the par-four eighth and bogeyed the ninth, displayed more than a hint of tuning out from the task at hand.
Four more bogeys in a row followed on the way to a seven over par back nine and when McIlroy was asked how he kept his concentration once he knew he was going to miss the cut he replied: “You don’t. Well, I don’t, anyway. I’m already thinking about next week and what I need to do to get my game ready for that, because you know, when I bogeyed 10,11, I knew that I would have to do something very special to make the cut.
“Thinking about it, it’s probably a good thing that I have the next two days off to practice and get my game sharper going into next week.
He said: “I’m still confident in my abilities and it’s just a matter of working hard and trying to bring it up a level from where it has been the last couple of weeks.”