Relaxed Harrington feeling very much at home back on European Tour
Former three-time Major winner posts an opening 65 in Turkey to maintain his recent fine form
Pádraig Harrington looks on with his caddie Ronan Flood during the first day of the Turkish Airlines Open at the Regnum Carya Golf & Spa Resort in Antalya, Turkey. Photograph: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images
The old dog for the hard road and all that, but Pádraig Harrington – a rejuvenated man since returning to the European Tour after his failure to make the FedEx Cup playoffs Stateside – is seriously considering cutting back on his travelling next year to concentrate more on playing in Europe.
The 47-year-old Dubliner has managed three top-10s in six tournaments since finishing his playing schedule in the USA and maintained that good form with an opening round 65, six-under-par, for a share of second place after the first round of the Turkish Airlines Open.
Harrington – who was able to hand back a sponsor’s invitation after qualifying by right for this megabucks tournament, which means any prizemoney he wins will count towards his bid to get into next week’s Nedbank Challenge and ultimately the following week’s Tour Championship in Dubai – showed all of his short-game prowess in producing a round that put him into the thick of things.
“I’m scrambling at a horrific rate,” admitted Harrington, but with that old glint in his eyes which lets you know he wouldn’t have it any other way.
On explaining his improved form since starting the late-season stint in Europe with a runner-up finish in the Czech Masters, Harrington said: “I do think without a doubt, on more European-style golf courses, just the slightly slower greens do make all the difference because it gives me quite a bit of freedom on the greens and around the greens to get up and down.
“I don’t hit so many fairways, so the firmer, faster greens in the States, it’s real tricky if you’re missing those greens. Whereas here, all my good performances have come on courses where I can get up and down pretty much from everywhere. That would be the difference. I’m obviously more comfortable on just slightly slower greens.”
He added: “I know the courses suit me better in Europe in terms of just that fraction slower greens. I’ve got a good enough short game that just opens up so much opportunity. And when you’re just slightly off pace in the States, it does feel so much like a sprint. Every day you’re trying to win and you’re just putting yourself under so much [pressure]. I enjoy the craic more in Europe, there’s no doubt about it.”
Harrington got off to a blistering start with four birdies in his opening five holes, yet it was his scrambling which impressed most. On the 12th, for example, his approach finished up behind a tree.
“I probably played a better chip from behind the tree than I would have played the same chip with all the room. It’s amazing how sometimes a shot can make you commit,” he remarked of that feat of escapology.
As it happened, Harrington had a chance – from five feet – on the 18th to finish with a birdie that would have tied him with Dunne. But the putt was through a shadow, and even calling in his caddie Ronan Flood left him none the wiser.
“It was a guess. I tried to hit it straight and it broke right-to-left,” he said of the failed effort.
Harrington is unsure of his travel plans for next week, whether he will make the field for the Nedbank (he has a place reserved on the charter plane to Sun City just in case he does move sufficiently up the Order of Merit) or if he will make the transatlantic trip to play in the Mayakoba Classic in Mexico.
His preference, obviously, would be to make it to Sun City and on to Dubai.
As for the possibility of a win?
He wants to win, but a win wouldn’t change him.
As he put it: “There’s nothing that really changes my legacy in the game. Maybe winning a Ryder Cup as a captain, that might help [but] even winning another Major, going from three to four, doesn’t really change much. Winning another tournament doesn’t [either] . . . but I actually really like it. I enjoy doing what I do.”