Nobody could be happier than Pádraig Harrington that Royal Portrush is staging the 148th Open Championship this week but the two-time Claret Jug winner wishes his favourite golf course was not in quite such good nick.
Heavy rain last week has softened up this hallowed Antrim terrain and a state of orderly perfection pervades which, for a course with holes named Calamity and Purgatory, does not easily in Harrington’s perception of the emotions a links course should evoke.
“Fair play to Royal Portrush, they have done everything, creating two new holes and giving the space a tournament of this magnitude needs,” he said following a short-game practice session.
“The two new holes are great. They have added to the golf course. But it takes a big event to create change at some golf clubs, and I am sure they have never seen their golf course in such condition. It’s magnificent out there. If anything, it’s too good.
“It’s just pristine. Hey, look, it would suit me if we went out and the place got burnt out because that’s more traditional.
“I’d say the Americans are loving this.
“I hit pitch shots there and normally when you come to an Open you have to grind the bounce off your wedge because the ground is so hard, so tight. I’ve put bounce onto my wedge here, it’s nice and perfect. There’s just a lot of grass and it’s manicured to the nth degree. It’s pristine.
“I’d prefer it to be like this for the showcasing of the event and the US guys are going to say, ‘wow, this is beautiful’, not what they expect at all.
“When we were in Royal Liverpool, the year Tiger won with all the irons, that was maniac stuff, you’d put the club down on the ground and it was slipping — you were afraid you were going to hit your golf ball. I think players are going to love this but I’d be happier if everybody was unhappy!”
Royal Portrush, however, remains Harrington’s favourite golf course.
“It’s right there at the top of the list. When it comes to links golf especially, I love the risk-reward of it.
“This course, it gives up plenty. There could be some low scoring here this week. It gives up plenty, but it takes away too.
I have always been a fan of a golf course that is not always taking from you. There are plenty of birdies to be made out there. There are some good breaks. There are a lot of areas on the greens where the ball will sweep towards the flag but there are some bad places to miss as well.
“So this is an exciting golf course. This should make for a lot of exciting golf this week but we will see how the guys manage it when it gets a little bit tighter, and you don’t want to miss here and there coming down the stretch on Sunday.”
Naturally, Harrington has the belief he can be part of the mix when the time comes on the back nine of the final round but a quick run through the golfers at the top of the betting markets this week underlines the size of the task facing the 47-year-old, starting with tournament favourite and course-record holder Rory McIlroy, bidding for his first major since 2014.
“I think his game is exceptional this year. It’s just become tougher to win a major. He had a competitive advantage five years ago that’s been eaten up by many a player at this stage. As good as he is, he has to look over his shoulder and worry about how DJ (Dustin Johnson) plays or how Brooks (Koepka) plays.
Back in 2011, there wasn’t anything like that, he wasn’t scared of anybody. He has to play his best golf this week and like anybody else in a major, he has to get the right breaks at the right time.
“In 2011, he felt he could overcome a couple of bad breaks but there are too many good players up there now. In terms of the home pressure, I don’t know if that’s a good thing but I do think that this week suits a good driver of the ball and he’s a great driver of the ball.
"This course suits him.”