Irish duo’s happy hunting ground

AFTER Graeme McDowell’s magnificent achievement at Pebble Beach the other week, much of the attention has switched on to the man from Portrush, thereby allowing Pádraig Harrington and Rory McIlroy to fly into St Andrews for next week’s Open Championship just a little under the radar.

That said, both Harrington and McIlroy will travel to St Andrews with high hopes. McIlroy won the Quail Hollow Championship earlier in the year and has never shot more than 69 in eight competitive rounds at St Andrews. For his part, Harrington has won two Dunhills Links titles at the home of golf.

“I spend a lot of time with Graeme and I think to myself, if G-Mac can go ahead and do it, hopefully I can do so too,” reasons the 21-year-old McIlroy. “St Andrews is my favourite course and any time you go back, you do so with good memories. The Open at St Andrews is probably the most special event you can play.

“You can hook it there all day. The first time I played it, I didn’t really think much of it, but play it a bit more and you start to appreciate the subtleties of the greens and the lines off the tees.”

Having figured prominently in three of last year’s majors, McIlroy has disappointed so far this season in the Masters and US Open, but McDowell is just one of those who believes he will thrive at St Andrews.

And if it came to pass that McIlroy and McDowell went down the stretch neck and neck and vying for the old claret jug tomorrow week, how would young Rory feel?

“Obviously, we would both be trying to win and you’re not going to fall out about it afterwards,” he said.

“In amateur golf, you play so close to guys in a team and then you have to play them in a match. Maybe you’re not concentrating 100% because you’re sort of chatting to them but I suppose the Open Championship at St Andrews is going to be a lot different.

“I’m sure Graeme will still talk to me the way around and I would still talk to him. You’re going to be paired with players and against people that you’ve gotten quite close or friendly to and for four or five hours, you’ve just got to try and beat them and afterwards, whatever happens, happens.”

Harrington missed the last Open at St Andrews five years ago because of the death of his father Paddy on the Monday night before the event began.

He arrived there yesterday planning to practice today and tomorrow. “St Andrews poses a totally different test than any other links I can think of. The greens get firmer than any others we will playing during the year. And the pin positions, in spite of the size of the greens, get exceptionally tight. So you’ve got to hit the shots in very high and that can be dangerous in a high wind. Stopping the ball quickly from where it’s landing is key at St Andrews.”

Given how well he’s done there over the years, you would expect Harrington to feel St Andrews was right up his alley but he doesn’t necessarily agree.

“I like and know the course, but decisions will still have to be made,” he said. “I’m toying with how aggressive I’m going to be and a lot of that will depend on how I feel about my game. Decisions will have to be made depending on the direction of the wind and things like that.”


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