Tait: Harrington showing signs of old self

Padraig Harrington speaks with the media after his second practice round prior to the start of the 141st Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.

Padraig Harrington speaks with the media after his second practice round prior to the start of the 141st Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England - Padraig Harrington is a 20-to-1 pick to win his third Open Championship this week at Royal Lytham. The Irishman will attract a lot of backers at those odds.

It could turn out to be a very wise investment.

When Harrington won the 2008 PGA Championship to take his third major in the space of 13 months - following back-to-back Open Championship wins in 2007-08 - it seemed to be the start of a run that would take him to other majors. However, the Dubliner struggled since that win at Oakland Hills four years ago. His only victory anywhere in the world is the 2010 Iskandar Johor Open in Malaysia.

Yet the signs are ominous that Harrington will add to his major tally this week. He has shown a welcome return to form in the game’s blue-ribbon tournaments this season.

Harrington tied for eighth in this year’s Masters and finished T-4 in the U.S. Open. Those represent significant improvements over his previous 12 majors. He missed the cut in six of those. A 10th-place finish in the 2009 PGA Championship was Harrington’s best showing in that three-year spell.

The difference? Harrington is rolling the ball better.

The irony is that if he’d putted just a little better, he might have won both majors this year. The 40-year-old Irishman missed a slew of putts down the stretch at Augusta that could have helped him to the title. Ditto in the U.S. Open at The Olympic Club.

Yet Harrington turns up for the 141st Open Championship in a good place because of his confidence in the short stick.

“I’ve been putting better. That’s essentially it,” Harrington said. “I’m playing better too, but the putting really does help.

“The putting has returned in its own shape or form, and the rest of the game is pretty solid on top of that. So hopefully that will be good enough this week to get me across the line.”

The Irishman has been working on mid-range putts after becoming convinced he wasn’t holing his fair share of them. “If you look at my stats, I would be excellent short range and not great medium range. I’m particularly trying to improve my ability to hole 15-footers.

“I was just classic decelerating the putts. I had no idea that’s what I was doing. You miss a few putts, you’re losing confidence. So it’s nice to find out it was more physical than mental.”

Harrington has spent a lot of time on the greens in the past two days. In fact, his practice has been so precise – perhaps eccentric might be a better word – he has been using a spirit level to try to help him read the Royal Lytham putting surfaces.

It’s not the first time Harrington has gone to extreme lengths to try to win a major. After all, this is a guy who seems to have a back-up team of about 10 different coaches – motivational experts, fitness instructors, psychologists, dieticians and probably astronomers – to tell him if the stars are in the correct alignment.

“I’m in good form and I’m in a good enough place that it is about managing where my head is at going into the tournament.”

Some would say he has his head in the clouds, but not the Irishman. He seems up for this major championship.

Maybe the bookmakers need to shorten his odds.

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