PÁDRAIG Harrington agrees that the game’s two finest exponents, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, enjoy a big advantage over him going into the 108th US Open Championship beginning at Torrey Pines tomorrow.
Whereas the Irishman is here for the first time, Woods has won six Buick Invitational titles over this course and Mickelson is a native of nearby San Diego. In other words, each know the course like the back of their hand.
Harrington had intended playing the Buick in February, only for the intervention of a bout of shingles. Instead, he has been confined to two and a half practice rounds and it remains to be seen if that will be sufficient to acquaint him with the vagaries and innate difficulty of the US Open layout.
“It would be nice to have played the golf course in 20 tournaments like Tiger has done but I just have to do the best with what I’ve got,” said Harrington. “He has an advantage over me in that respect. How big an advantage? We don’t know. There’s no question the more you play a course, the better you get to know it.
“But I’m not worried. I can’t do anything about it. I would have picked up something in the Buick that would have helped me this week. I’ll have a putt this week that I’ll hit on a certain line and I’d probably have had the same putt in the Buick and I’ll remember it didn’t come down, it stayed up there, and this week I’d have changed my mind. But there’s nothing I can do about it.”
Having arrived on the back of a 4th place finish in Memphis at the weekend and three other top fives in the US this year, Harrington has come a long way from his first US Open at Congressional back in 1998, when he felt completely out of his depth. In the intervening years, he has twice finished 5th and had two other top ten finishes as he drastically changed his game under the tutelage of Bob Torrance and Bob Rotella and is now completely comfortable in the States.
“I’ve had a lot of top fives in the last six months, but there weren’t any wins and they’re the ones that count,” he pointed out.
“What does give me confidence is that I seem to be getting better over the last two-and-a-half years and playing a better game the week of the majors.
“Maybe in the last nine or 10, I’ve played good golf and got myself well into those tournaments. True, I’ve had a few missed cuts, but I’ve had a lot of good, good runs. It’s all about playing the first 63 holes well so that you have a chance with the last nine holes. If you do that, it’s all you can ask for in a tournament.”
For obvious reasons, the Irishman wasn’t sure what to expect on arrival but he felt reassured by his first sight of Torrey Pines.
“I really like this golf course, I’m very happy with it,” he said. “It fits my eye. It’s a good, stern test but it seems very, very fair. From what I’ve heard, everybody is pleased with it. What may be a little disappointing is that it’s always nice when about half the field gives out about the venue but, seriously, I think there’s a change in the way the courses have been set up in my 12 years on tour.
“In the late 90s, it was very much the heaviest rough they could get, down the side of every fairway and around the greens. Now they realise they can grade the rough off the tees and have a little bit of imagination around the greens and the set-ups have got better with that. The golf courses over here suit me better than in Europe because the fairways are 50% wider and the rough isn’t as heavy so it does allow for a little more imagination in the game. But I’m comfortable everywhere. I just turn up and do my thing.”
The last four champions, Angel Cabrera, Geoff Ogilvy, Michael Campbell and Retief Goosen, have all been non-Americans. But there is no European among that group; not since Tony Jacklin at Hazeltine in 1970 has there been a winner from Europe. Harrington believes that will change quickly.
“I can’t tell you now that I’m going to have a great week or a bad week,” he says. “But I’m happy with the last two weeks. I’ve sorted out a few things and I feel ready to go and play. That’s all I can do.”
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