Pádraig Harrington may not be allowed to gamble on golf but the two-time Open champion makes a compelling case for lifting the Claret Jug a third time this Sunday.
Both Harrington, who won the Open in 2007 and 2008, and Darren Clarke’s 2011 victory were instrumental in bringing the oldest major to Royal Portrush for the first time in 68 years this week and both of them are relishing the opportunities this greatest of golfing tournaments gives them.
For Clarke, 50, it is the honour, gratefully and graciously accepted yesterday, to hit the first tee shot of an Open on Irish soil this Thursday morning while Harrington believes he has not been better prepared to regain the Claret Jug he won at Carnoustie and Royal Birkdale and become the tournament’s oldest Champion Golfer of the Year at the age of 47.
Asked for compelling reasons for backing him this week as he completed a chipping drill on a sunny afternoon at Portrush yesterday, Harrington said: “I’ve won it twice, I’ve prepared properly, and I’m a winner. There you go. Three’s enough.”
Having suggested the R&A’s decision to take the Open back to Royal Portrush had been a perfect storm of circumstances, it was put to Harrington that a victory this week would be the perfect end to that storm.
“Problem is if I won this week, it wouldn’t be an end, it’d be a start,” he said with a laugh before relaying his amazement at being asked recently why he still put in the hard yards on the practice grounds.
“I’ll tell you this. I hit a putt last week on the 15th hole in Scotland (last week), it genuinely gave me a sense of joy in my soul. That’s how much I love golf.
It was a thing of beauty. I three-putted as it turned out. It lipped out and I missed the one back. The first putt gave me a sense of peace, joy, absolutely deep-down feeling in my soul… why wouldn’t you do that?
Harrington is indeed in a good place and when it all clicks he remains a match for anyone on a links course, as his Irish Open opening-round 63 at Lahinch 12 days ago proved, his age no barrier to future greatness as far as he is concerned.
“If I want to look at age, Tom Watson was 59 when he should have won it (at Turnberry in 2009). I won’t say I’m as good as Tom Watson but I’ve 12 years on him, and I’ll take my chances.”
Harrington is 125/1 to win The Open this week and the same odds to be first-round leader, a position he found himself in Lahinch after his opening blitz.
“Someone got me at 80/1 to lead after the first round at Lahinch. A local politician, a whole pub of people. The local politician told me he backed me and then another fella said he was in a pub and everyone had backed me, and there was free drink for the night.”
He added a note of caution: “Nobody gives you anything in golf. You can sit there and wish for so many things. You could have six-shot lead after three days… nobody gives you anything. You’ve got to go play it.”
Clarke does have something solid, presented to him by R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers in the form of an invitation to get The 148th Open under way at 6:35am on Thursday.
For the Dungannon-born, Portrush resident it represents just not a personal honour but a remarkable indication of just how far Northern Ireland has come since the Troubles cast a shadow over his youth and that of thousands of others.
“Will there be tears? No. I’ll just be very proud that we have it back here in Northern Ireland. I think the Open Championship is going to start, and I think the other guys would say the same sort of thing. It goes without saying, it’s a huge thing to have it back here in Northern Ireland again.
“I think it was Pádraig started it when he won all his majors. Then whenever we came along behind him… We had a little bit to do with it, but there were more important people than ourselves.
“But the political climate until recently, they were never going to come here in that scenario. And from how far we’ve moved on from the Good Friday agreement when that was done, they were never going to bring a tournament this big when we had those troubles going on. And to see them being as brave as they have been to bring it up here has been wonderful.
“They had the Amateur Championship in Portmarnock not too long ago, as well, and that was a huge success. The R&A are open to moving things around.”