Harrington’s competitive juices flowing in advance of Major test

Successive runner-up finishes on Champions Tour a confidence-booster for former USPGA winner

You get to a certain age and the option for a new route into the Major championships presents itself.

In Pádraig Harrington's case, the option to use the Champions Tour – for over 50s – has been the method of choice this time around, as the Dubliner prepares for a 23rd career appearance in the USPGA Championship at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

For the past three weeks, Harrington has been busy sharpening up on the Champions Tour with a run of tournaments – Insperity Invitational in Texas (tied-25th), the Mitsubishi Electric Classic in Georgia (tied-2nd) and the Regions Tradition in Alabama (2nd) – that confirmed his competitive juices are very much flowing.

Although his latest runner-up finish, to Steve Stricker in the Regions Tradition on Sunday, meant he came up short for the second straight week in filling second best, Harrington observed that "not all second places feel the same . . . . I made a lot of mistakes [and was] never in with a chance to win."

The positive data to extract from Harrington’s final round, however, was that his putter continues to be a strong part of his armoury with eight birdies included in that final round 68 which saw him finish six strokes behind Stricker.

Harrington hasn't played on the main PGA Tour since missing the cut at the Masters and, currently 172nd in the world rankings, the 2008 US PGA champion has retained the capacity to perform on the bigger stages with the big-hitting younger generation.

“I hit the ball better now than at any stage in my career, way better. But my consistency, I’ve lost some of that,” Harrington recently observed to Golf magazine.

Last year's tied-fourth finish at the US PGA at Kiawah Island was Harrington's best finish in a Major for nearly a decade, going back to his tied-fourth in the US Open of 2012. It also ended a run of three straight cuts in the US PGA, providing conviction that, in a given championship and especially if the conditions are tough, he can more than compete with the young guns.

New departure

Harrington has competed in two past Majors at the Tulsa venue: in the 2001 US Open, won by Retief Goosen, he finished tied-30th; and in the 2007 US PGA, won by Tiger Woods, he finished tied-42nd. The course, since then, has seen renovations under course architect Gil Hanse (completed in 2019).

While Harrington took a new departure in his scheduling up to a Major by playing three successive weeks on the Champions Tour, the other three Irish players in the field – Rory McIlroy, Séamus Power and Shane Lowry – adopted different strategies.

In McIlroy's case, the world number seven has played only once since his runner-up finish to Scottie Scheffler in the Masters. That came in the Wells Fargo Championship, where the Northern Irishman finished fifth.

Lowry is resuming tournament after a three-week break, but coming in on the back of some terrific form – a third-place finish in the Masters followed by a third-place finish in the RBC Heritage – and he has three top-10 finishes in six appearances on the PGA Tour so far this year.

Power rebounded from a missed cut at the Wells Fargo with a top-20 finish in the AT&T Byron Nelson where, critically given the examination upcoming at Southern Hills, he was ranked sixth in putting. This will be Power’s second career Major, following on from his tied-27th finish in last month’s Masters.

South Korea’s KH Lee, who successfully defended his title in the Byron Nelson, is hoping to “keep momentum” going heading into the PGA and not to repeat last year’s experience where he missed the cut at Kiawah Island.

“My first goal is to play well, hopefully make the cut and play well . . . . hopefully this season will be better than last year,” said Lee.