Padraig Harrington, who won two of his three majors while Tiger Woods was out injured in 2008, has fallen from third in the world to 57th since then. But, far from feeling down in the dumps with the British Open only two weeks away and no Woods in the field again, Harrington is excited.
For the first time since 1999, the Dubliner is warming up at the Barclays Scottish Open rather than at home, and after his first look at the new Castle Stuart course near Inverness he is already sure he has done the right thing.
2011 BARCLAYS SCOTTISH OPEN
The Scottish Open is being played on the links-style layout at Castle Stuart near Inverness for the first time this week.
"I'm here because it's on a links course, but who knows until you get out there yourself?" said Harrington. "It's way above expectations -- and a great set-up for next week.
"It's fantastic that we get that opportunity to enjoy this style of golf because it's really different to what we are used to and takes a lot of getting used to,” he added. "I cannot emphasize how different it is hitting an iron shot off the turf on a links course rather than on a standard parkland course. Some go further and some go shorter because of the turf."
Harrington's recent form is nothing to write home about, but he remains excited about his game.
"I'm looking forward to the challenge this week,” he said. “Obviously if you are not in contention, you are thinking about getting your game ready for the Open, but if on Sunday I have a chance this is a big enough tournament that I'd put all my effort into this and forget about next week.
"I've won the Irish Open and the Open. It would be nice to have another one of the home nation titles."
As for his ranking position, he stated: "I'm not a person who thinks he should be top 10, top five. Nobody deserves it by right -- you are what you are.
"There is room for improvement. I fully believe I've got lots of room to go forward and I will go forward,” he added. "It's interesting -- you don't look at it (the ranking) when you are going backwards as much as when you're going forwards. I haven't looked in a long time!"
Harrington also believes Rory McIlroy will be well prepared for the British Open even though he hasn’t played since winning the U.S. Open. The break will be more than three weeks by the time the 22-year-old Northern Irishman tees it up at Royal St. George’s.
“He’s very familiar with links golf and he will play quite a bit of links golf in those three weeks at home,” said Harrington. “In terms of getting used to it, that shouldn’t be an issue. He doesn’t seem to have any issue in terms of competitiveness not playing. He knows what he’s doing. If you can win by eight shots by not playing the week before, I’d stick to that routine.”
Former Ryder Cup Captain Colin Montgomerie felt it would have been in McIlroy’s interests to have played at least one event between the majors.
“There are going to be so many people wanting to congratulate him. Whether it was (last week’s) French Open or the Scottish Open (starting Thursday), he could have got that out of his system and out of the way so he can start the Open afresh,” said Montgomerie, still looking for his first major title. “Now he’s got that ahead of him.”
Harrington acknowledged that McIlroy’s buildup to the British Open, which begins July 14, will be hectic, but said having a major title to his name will help him get through it.
“There’s always that external stuff building up and it does make it harder,” said the Irishman. “But the advantage is, if you get through that and you get to the last nine holes and you are in contention, the fact you have done it before and you’ve already got one certainly eases the pressure on you.”
McIlroy plans to visit Royal St. George’s this week.
Meanwhile, Scotland's Mrtin Laird declared himself happy to be back in Europe -- not just for two huge events, but also for a break from wedding preparations. The U.S.-based 28-year-old, the first Scot to make the world's top 25 since Colin Montgomerie, is getting married in Colorado two weeks after next week's Open.
"Obviously that's the biggest weekend of the year. You only get married once -- hopefully!" said Laird. "We're really looking forward to that, but it's kind of nice to be over here and play a couple of really good tournaments and get away from all the wedding details."
First comes the Barclays Scottish Open, which after more than a decade at Loch Lomond switches back to a links course, the spectacular new Castle Stuart layout.
Given the change, Laird admits he is surprised there aren’t more American players in the field -- although eight years ago, of course, Ben Curtis had never experienced links golf in his life when he won the Open at Royal St George's.
Phil Mickelson, Matt Kuchar, Gary Woodland, Brandt Snedeker, Ryan Palmer and Brendan Steele are the ones who have crossed the Atlantic early.
"I got a lot of questions from guys the last few months," said Laird, winner of the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March. "I told them I've not been here, but heard it's great. I don't know if it's because it's the first year maybe they didn't come.
"Links golf is so different than the typical American-style golf,” he explained. “If you haven't played on it for a while, it does take you a little time to get used to it and get your feel back around the greens and stuff."
It is only for the last two years that the Glaswegian, who went to college in the States and stayed there, has earned himself a place in the Open, and he missed the cut at both Turnberry and St. Andrews -- the second of those after a second-round 83. He is hoping for much better this time.
"I saw my coach the week after the U.S. Open and really got some things sorted out -- my usual bad tendencies -- and feel my game is coming back around like the start of the year."