SOUTHPORT, ENGLAND | If unintentionally, Pádraig Harrington has done a bit of a Roger Federer. The winner of the 2008 Open at Royal Birkdale has lost 14 weeks of playing and practising through injuries and is feeling pretty good about himself as a result. He may be 45, but he finished in a share of fourth place last week in the Scottish Open, with his weekend scores of 79 and 66 coming the right way round – the 79 on the Saturday and the 66 on the Sunday.
Now he is out to manage himself well over the next few days by using “a minimum amount of stress and a minimum amount of work.”
Inevitably, he has been asked about his memories of ’08 – and as you would expect they were better than those from his ‘07 win at Carnoustie in that he finished things off “exactly as you would dream of doing as a kid to win a major.” Where, at Carnoustie, he was involved in a play-off, at Birkdale he had all the fun of playing down the 18th in the knowledge that he would be picking up the Claret Jug at the end of it. (He finished four clear of Ian Poulter)
Harrington also described himself as having “got lucky” in ’08. He had been injured at the start of the week and, because of it, he didn’t feel too much in the way of expectation. “I was able to do all the stuff that you have to do as defending champion and have time to do it. So because I wasn’t playing practice rounds that week, I basically freed up a lot more time; so there was a lot less stress.
“The week turned out to be gruelling and tough. And I played the least amount of golf (over the week) as anyone and so was probably the freshest guy on the course Thursday morning – and certainly on the Sunday.”
Inevitably, the question was raised as to whether his fans should be worried about last Saturday’s 79. Sensibly, he was making nothing of it; he had played good golf all weekend but where, on Saturday, the bounces had been bad rather than good, the reverse had replied for his final round.
Where he was, tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, was when he was asked if he still felt as competitive as ever.
Having expressed surprise that anyone should ask him such a question, he quoted a comment made not so long ago by his good friend Shane Lowry: “I think I’m going to win even when I’m not playing.”
Harrington is not worried about his 45 years. He notes how Open championship courses can mostly be played by shorter hitters. Also, he thinks there’s a lot to be said for experience when it comes to dealing with the very different weather conditions which can apply.
He did not mention as much, but Mark O’Meara was on the wrong side of 40 when he won at Birkdale in 1998.