Padraig Harrington impressed with Portstewart as Irish Open venue

Padraig Harrington is out to win his second Irish Open at Portstewart this week, 10 years after his first
From Tony McGee at Portstewart

IT is certainly the wish of all professional tour golfers to win their own national championship but only three of the present crop of Irish players have managed to taste victory in the Irish Open.

On a never-to-be forgotten day in 2007 at Adare Manor, Pádraig Harrington bridged a 25-year gap for the Irish from the previous home win by John O’Leary.

Two years later amateur Shane Lowry snatched the title at County Louth after a rain-soaked play-off with Robert Rock.

Then, 12 months ago, Rory McIlroy also prevailed in the rain, this time at the K Club, an apt victory saying as the man himself has been the host of the event in recent seasons.

All three will tomorrow begin the hunt for the prize again and Harrington will do so in a more relaxed frame of mind having already added the Irish Open to his illustrious CV.

“”I don’t know about having won it and not having won it, but certainly my early years playing in the Irish Open were very stressful,” said the three-time Major winner.

“It was only when I realised that it was impossible to have all the angles covered – you have to accept that it is not a normal week.

“Once you understand that and you understand that people want you to win, rather than expect you to win, and there is a subtle difference between that, you tend to start to enjoy them, you have more chance of enjoying them.

“There is an awful lot going on. There is a lot of good distractions, like even today, I arrived up to the clubhouse and I had a few things to do.

“I keep meeting people, keep talking to people. They are all interesting conversations and you keep running over time.”

Harrington had never played the Strand Course in Portstewart prior to yesterday’s practice round, and he liked what he found.

“”It’s a very nice course, very pleasant, very enjoyable,” he said.

“It is very spectacular all the way through the front nine. I thought that back nine was excellent – probably tougher.

“Some great holes on that back nine, even though my favourite hole on the course is the little par three sixth, the simplicity of it. A fantastic golf hole.”

The Dubliner has had he problems with injuries over the past season, with some bizarre ones thrown into the bargain, but he is now fighting fit again and ready to go.

“My game turned the corner last summer and I started playing really well, striking the ball well,” he said.

“The injury at the Olympics curtailed the end of my year. My game feels good. I like what I see in my game. I just like to get out on the golf course and play a bit more but there is no reason why it can’t add up to a winning performance this week, or in any week at the moment.

“It is just a case of getting out on the golf course , being competitive and sharpening the game up. I saw that happening at the Travelers two weeks ago.

“I’m certainly not using this as a practice week.”

Now that the Irish Open, with a £5.4m prize-fund on offer, has become one of the most prestigious tournaments on the European Tour once more, the depth of quality in the field has increased, and while that makes it harder to win, Harrington is delighted with the way the event is heading.

“”We are where, I suppose, we want the Irish Open to be,” he said.

“There was a time, I think, that we got to the stage that we kind of expected the Irish Open to be there. Clearly, that was proven wrong over the last 10 to 15 years.

“Thankfully with Rory and the Rory Foundation and the effort he has put in, it has brought it back to where it should be. But we should never take it for granted.

“It takes a lot of effort to put a multi-million event on and we should never forget those years, 2007 to 2010, when the tournament was being propped up by the European Tour.

“Without the Rory Foundation and Rory putting in an extraordinary effort behind the scenes, we wouldn’t have the event we have now. All the players appreciate that.”

What a lot of Irish fans would also appreciate is another Harrington victory in Portstewart come Sunday evening.

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