Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Padraig Harrington is hoping his victory in the Irish Open at Adare Manor last month will provide the catalyst for his first Major title at this week’s US Open at Oakmont Country Club.

After coming so close to winning the title a year ago at Winged Foot, where three pars to finish would have been good enough, and also contending in this year’s Masters Tournament, Harrington is confident he is capable of winning the season’s second Major over what is expected to be one of the toughest examinations ever faced.

His victory at Adare Manor, where he ended a 25 year wait for a home winner, has given the Irishmen further impetus to claim his first Major.

“For me winning the Irish open was not necessarily winning on the course but more just dealing with everything that went around it,” said last season’s European Tour Number One. “And if you get in contention at the US Open, it can be quite a circus around the actual event.

“There was a lot of distraction in Ireland that I went through well and kept my mind focused on winning.”

Harrington will need that focus at Oakmont which he called a fair test yet one that he expected to be tougher than last year's US Open at Winged Foot.

The winning score at Winged Foot was five over par 285 posted by Australian Geoff Ogilvy and Harrington admitted he would be hard pressed to predict a wining score but left no doubt who he felt was in control of it.

Asked if he would accept four rounds of 72 on the par 70 layout, he said: "I wouldn't be putting my house on that eight over par is going to win this tournament. But I certainly think it's got a chance.

"As I said, if the USGA want us to shoot level par this week, the winning score will be level par.

"So it's much more in their control than it is in any player's control. If somebody goes out and shoots 66 the first day, God help the rest of us for the next three days. But I don't see that happening."

Harrington has three top ten finishes in the US Open, most recently last year at Winged Foot when he tied for fifth.

“There are a number of events that as I’ve gone on would give me confidence to believe that I can produce the goods to win, and probably none more so than the US Open last year.

"I had three pars to win the US Open last year and was very comfortable in that position," said Harrington.

"It rolls off the tongue very well, three pars to win the US Open, sounds pretty straightforward. I was playing great, felt comfortable to that stage and didn't play the last three holes pretty badly either. I'm well capable of doing it."

For Harrington to win, he will have to tame what a course which boasts the longest hole in US Open history, the 667 yard 12th, the longest par three in the 288 yard eighth hole and, for good measure, the second longest par four with the 15th measuring 500 yards.

Then throw in a staggering 210 bunkers, including some of the most penal fairway bunkers ever seen, such as the famous church pews alongside the third and fourth holes, which have been lengthened, widened and deepened for the US Open. Mike Davis, senior director of Rules and Competitions who is in charge of the course set-up, sums the bunkers up when he states: “When you get in them, you are not going to get to the green. It will be worse than being in the rough. And we haven’t had that in some years.”

And getting to the green is generally considered the easy part, as the Oakmont greens are, by common consent, the toughest greens ever faced in a US Open or any other tournament. The fact at Arnold Palmer suffered 11 three putts when he lost to Jack Nicklaus at the 1962 US Open at Oakmont in a play-off says it all.

“It’s a really good challenge,” said Harrington. “I don’t think I have played a golf course with as many hazards as close the fairway on both sides of the fairway. Normally you miss the fairway you are in heavy rough but you could be in a penal hazard. The conditions, it looks like we are going to have nice, sunny weather all week and a bit of a breeze and that lends itself to playing a difficult golf course like this. It should be a very fair test in these sort of conditions.

“Obviously the greens are the toughest part of the golf course. At the moment it’s playing quite well as there is a little bit of give in them. I don’t know what the intentions are but with a little bit of give in the greens, it makes it reasonable to play into such severe undulating greens.

“There are a lot of greens where you can’t exactly hit the middle of the green and two putt. You’ve got to try and hit it close. If you’re outside 20 feet you have got your work cut out to get down in two. Trying to hit the middle of the green, the ball won’t stay there for starters, and even if you are there you’re likely to be putting over some undulations on some very fast greens, so it is difficult to two putt. You are better off trying to hit it close and make a few birdies and a few bogeys that way."



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