Harrington returns to Royal Birkdale this week, nine years on from his 2008 triumph, the second of two victories in golf’s oldest major. His 2007 win at Carnoustie was a significant breakthrough for Irish golf, a first major success since Fred Daly’s at Hoylake in 1947, and Harrington has since been followed as the R&A’s champion golfer by Darren Clarke in 2011 at Royal St George’s and Rory McIlroy in 2014, also at Hoylake. That was where Lowry enjoyed his best finish at The Open, a tie for ninth, seven strokes behind McIlroy, but there have been two missed cuts in the championship since.
Despite that disappointing run, Harrington believes his friend has what it takes to get the job done and points to Lowry’s Irish Open win as an amateur in 2009 and his WGC-Bridgestone Invitational success in 2015 as meaningful stepping stones to one of golf’s greatest prizes.
“We’ve all played our formative years on links golf courses and understand it,” Harrington said of the Irish challenge. “So you can never write off any of the Irish guys.
“Obviously Shane is the new man on the block. Physically, you know, he’s got the game. He knows how to play links golf. He knows how to win on the big occasion. And I think that’s probably the biggest thing for Shane, his wins, when he won the Irish Open as an amateur, that was probably bigger in terms of stress and pressure than it would be for him to win this week. It was more out of the blue for an amateur to win on Tour. And Bridgestone, again, he can handle the big occasions. Shane can definitely win.” Harrington has some credentials of his own, of course, when it comes to The Open and he has arrived back at Birkdale in excellent form following a closing round of 66 at the Scottish Open on Sunday which gave him a share of fourth place at Dundonald Links, only a third-round 79 denting his hopes of victory.
Not that Saturday’s bad round would have dented his confidence. Asked if he believed he was a credible contender this week as he returns to the scene of his great victory, the 46-year-old replied: “I’m amazed you have to ask that.
“I will always go back to the Shane Lowry quote, I think I’m going to win the week I’m not playing. So clearly I think I’m a credible contender on any golf course, but bring me to a links golf course, no doubt about it, it gets me more — it gives me an advantage to be on a links course, for sure.
“Obviously this week, it’s interesting this week, I’ve come in in better form. So I’m playing decent golf and contending, trying to contend. I enjoy the week because I am not quite defending, but coming back here again and making the most of it because these good feelings don’t come around that often. So I have a few things to do this week and try and manage my way around so that I’m minimum stress, minimum amount of work, so that I’m fresh for the 72 holes of golf.”
Following an extended absence from competition after neck surgery earlier this year, Harrington believes he is ahead of schedule in terms of finding his form so quickly after his return at last month’s Travelers Championship.
“I turned a good corner in my golf a year ago, started playing really nice. I got injured at the Olympics and I’ve had struggles from then. But it’s a year ago that my form, my attitude, everything about me, my golf had changed. I could see that change.
“I played 21 rounds of competitive golf in seven months, from November to the Travelers in June. So, yeah, I wasn’t sure where it would be, but I knew that if I could be healthy and face that, I’m certainly on top of things. I had nothing to worry about in terms of what I’m doing with my game. I needed to get on the golf course just to play. I knew my attitude was good.
“So, yes, I am ahead of it. I have to think I’m slightly ahead of it, but I’m starting in a good place. I was confident coming in, getting a few rounds under my belt, I’ll be back to where I need to be.”