Padraig Harrington heads to the defence of his US PGA Championship title at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Minnesota this week in fine fettle after a stirring showing in last week’s World Golf Championships – Bridgestone Invitational.
The Irishman eventually lost out to Tiger Woods on a thrilling last day at Firestone Country Club but showed during the week in Ohio, that the game which brought him three Major Championships in the space of 13 months, was very much back in evidence.
“I have definitely found what I’m looking for and, in that process, I’ve probably learned a lot more about my game that I ever could have wished to have learned,” he said. “It has been very, very constructive for me over the past eight months and I am very positive going forward.
“I played at Hazeltine the last time the US PGA was there in 2002 (he finished tied 17th) but I haven’t been recently. It is a good golf course and they have lengthened it a bit from the last time so it will demand a lot of solid play over the week.
“I don’t think it is in any way, shape or form, a tricky golf course. It is a golf course to hit it well off the tee and it’s going to be a big hitter’s course,” added the Irishman, whose point was borne out by the fact that, at 7,674 yards, it will claim the record as the longest course in Major Championship history.
Harrington will headline a record European Tour entry for a Major Championship in the United States with a total of 64 Members lining up, nine more than the previous best of 55 who contested the US Open Championship at Bethpage State Park in June.
Four men – Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy, Italian Francesco Molinari, Spaniard Alvaro Quiros and Englishman Chris Wood – will be making their debuts in the US PGA Championship arena.
Wood impressed again during The Open Championship at Turnberry, finishing tied for third following his fifth-place finish as an amateur a year earlier. The 21 year old only gained his European Tour card nine months ago when he graduated from the Qualifying School, so to compete alongside the world’s best underlines his progress.
Quiros claimed his third European Tour title in Qatar in January and underlined his growing confidence on the big stage when he finished in a tie for 15th place in the WGC – Bridgestone Invitational, the highlight of the week in Akron for the Spaniard being his superb second round 65.
Last year’s US PGA Championship runner-up, Sergio Garcia, is also in the field, as is World Number Three and Race to Dubai leader Paul Casey along with in-form German Martin Kaymer, who won back-to-back European Tour titles in France and Scotland last month.
But all European eyes will be on defending champion Harrington as he attempts to emulate Woods in 1999-2000 and 2006-07 by winning the US PGA Championship in consecutive years in the modern era, and he will certainly have the best view in the field of the World Number One as, following on from their duel in Akron, they are paired together for the first two rounds.
The Irishman, who carded back-to-back closing rounds of 66 at Oakland Hills near Detroit 12 months ago to become the first European since Tommy Armour in 1930 to lift the Wanamaker Trophy, will play with Woods and Rich Beem, who won the 2002 US PGA title when the Championship was last played at Hazeltine.
Elsewhere, as is traditional, the winners of the first three Majors of the year are paired together, placing Masters Tournament winner Angel Cabrera, US Open Champion Lucas Glover and Open winner Stewart Cink in the same group.
Another notable three-ball sees Ernie Els of South Africa and American Steve Stricker playing alongside England's Ian Poulter, while Lee Westwood, tied third at The Open Championship, has been paired with Fred Couples and Quiros.
European Ryder Cup Captain Colin Montgomerie, who will compete in a Major Championship in the United States for the first time this year, has Argentina's Andres Romero and American Kevin Sutherland for company over the first two days.