padraig harrington

Padraig Harrington, having won the PGA Grand Slam last year, admits his stress level is lower this year than last.

Harrington sees experience and intensity as key to his title defense

By Josh Ball, Contributor

SOUTHAMPTON, Bermuda – Another year older, another year wiser, defending PGA Grand Slam champion Padraig Harrington isn't sure he has the intensity required to win this week.

After coming close twice, in 2007 and 2008, when he lost in playoffs to Angel Cabrera and Jim Furyk, Harrington won last year having been invited to play when Open Champion Ernie Els pulled out through injury.

This time the Irishman is replacing Phil Mickelson, the 2013 Open Champion and, while he ranks 99th in the world, his opponents – Masters winner Adam Scott (2), U.S. Open champion Justin Rose (5) and PGA Championship winner Jason Dufner (10) – are all in the top 10.

And where last time there was a sense of urgency to perform, this time the stress is gone. And with it, maybe, a key ingredient to being a winner.

"I should have won my first two ones here [in 2007 and 2008], and I think I had a point to prove last year," said Harrington. "So, there was a certain amount of urgency in it last year.  

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"This year, I'm pretty relaxed about it.  I've enjoyed my first couple of days here, and then I'm certainly not as stressed about it as I would have been in previous years," he explained. "That mightn't be for the best – sometimes you need a little bit of intensity to play your best golf, but it is the way it is.  So I'm looking forward to playing tomorrow and enjoying it more than anything else."

That lack of intensity is a problem that Harrington admits to having had all year, and he isn't sure what the answer is to getting it back.

Partly technical, partly mental, the 99th ranked player in the world points to a 'loss of innocence' as the key to his troubles on the course.

"I think that I've matured as a player now that I've seen most of it before, and there's not as much innocence in me," said Harrington. "So, as much as I love playing golf, certainly I'm not – I don't get up every morning and expect to see something that I haven't seen before, which is – so there is a little bit of that [loss of intensity], for sure." 

Finding the answer will meaning figuring out who he is as a person, and as a golfer.

"I'm a different person and I have a different attitude to the game at this stage, so I have to work with that," he said. "There's no point in trying to go back and be the guy I was five years ago before I won majors. So I have to figure out what's the best way of getting the best game out of me now." 

Intensity aside, Harrington does have one thing in his favor. While this is his fourth visit to Bermuda, and his second to Port Royal, the rest of the field is coming to the Island for the first time. 

Experience, then, might be the telling factor, that, and mastering the wind that whips in from the Atlantic Ocean, from all points of the compass.

"The wind is what makes this course a real challenge," said Scott. "The rough is long, so hitting the fairways is going to be premium whether the wind is up or not. 

"But, this course has such elevation change, and that always makes it tough, and that's why I think playing a couple extra rounds is helpful, because you just get a better feel for how much downhill a tee shot is or a par 3 shot into a green," he added. "That's the stuff that you can only get with experience of playing a course."

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Of the three "rookies," Scott has played three times at Port Royal, more than Rose and Dufner. The other two have seen enough to know that there could be some surprises in store.

"I haven't played in a heavy breeze like this for quite a while," said Rose. "It's an adjustment, just getting back into seeing – judging the wind. I think that was the biggest challenge today, but I'm glad I got that under my belt and the surprise wasn't tomorrow."

Dufner, meanwhile, expects the event to turn on the closing holes, with the PGA Champion pointing to Nos. 16, 17, and 18 as the place where he expects the Grand Slam to be won, and lost.

"Obviously 16, is a very difficult hole," he said. "Especially late in the tournament come Wednesday, you could see a two-shot or even a three-shot swing on that hole. Pretty easy to make a bogey or a double on that hole, and if you hit a good shot, you can pick up a couple shots.

"Then 18 is kind of a birdie hole playing downwind, so you can see a lot of change in the leaderboard," Dufner explained. "Hopefully we'll have guys that are kind of bunched up there and give some excitement to the event. 

"You could see a big swing there where a guy could go through there playing 2 or 3 under, and another guy could play 2 or 3 over," he said. "I think that finish to the golf course is pretty strong."