Padraig Harrington claimed Sergio Garcia had been a sore loser back in the day
The last player to win back-to-back Opens claimed three months ago the Spaniard had been a “sore loser” when he was winning Majors and Garcia was not. But after a rapprochement of sorts with the Masters champion at Rory McIlroy’s wedding, Harrington wants to leave their fractious past behind.
They are not yet best buddies, but there has been a thaw in their non-relationship to the point where Harrington insists he would be pleased for Garcia if he won his first Claret Jug at the 21st time of asking. Garcia has finished in the top six for the past three years.
“I would be happy. He has certainly paid his dues at this stage,” said Harrington. “I probably had a chip on my shoulder back then at how talented Sergio seemed and Sergio probably had the same with me. I’d got my Major, why hadn’t he?
“We were always looking for the worst in each other but I’m looking forward to a much better relationship with Sergio going forwards.
Padraig Harrington was the last person to win back-to-back Open titles
We were always looking for the worst in each other but I’m looking forward to a much better relationship with Sergio going forwards
“We always have one at Ryder Cups – he’s an easy guy to get along with – so it would be nice if that is the way it is going forwards. You never want to have a situation where there is tension between two players because it ends up dragging the two of you down.”
The days of Garcia and Harrington duelling as equals at an Open Championship, as they memorably did in a play-off at Carnoustie in 2007, appear to have passed with 150 spots separating them in the world rankings. But the experience of being out in front at the Scottish Open at halfway has given the 45-year-old Irishman belief again, even if he did fade away over the weekend.
“Of all the Major tournaments The Open is the one where age is the least of a barrier,” said Harrington.
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“Over the last 10 years it has become more and more of an advantage to be a power hitter and a high hitter in Open Championships, but there is still a huge amount down to strategy and experience and managing your way round the course.
“When it comes to managing my way round one of these courses I believe I’m the best player in the game at the moment. It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not, I believe that, and it brings a certain amount of confidence and competitiveness. I walk onto a links golf course and think, ‘I have an advantage’.
“I can handle the good with the bad on a course like this. Golf was never designed to be a fair game. It was always meant to be a test of physical ability and mental ability and the links brings that out.”
Harrington acknowledges he carries more mental scars in his mid-40s than he did in his mid-30s but his only flashbacks from Birkdale are joyous ones. The signature shot of his four-shot win was the eye-of-a-needle fairway five wood at the penultimate hole from 272 yards to within four feet.
Sergio Garcia won his first major earlier this year at The Masters
“It is recognised as the greatest shot I’ve ever hit and people have put it in the category of one of the greatest shots in golf,” said Harrington. “I used to argue against that a little bit but I went back to Birkdale recently and I did think, ‘Wow, this looks a lot tougher and a lot narrower than I remember it’.
“It just goes to show how good a player is when his eye is in and he’s on top of the world. He is bulletproof out there.”
Harrington will return this week a different player – his feet move on the shot like an Irish dancer these days – but still eyeing an unlikely tilt at the famous Jug his son Paddy once filled with ladybirds.
“You want to have all the good memories and to reminisce – after all, I won The Open and you have to smell the roses and take in the fact that you were the last champion at Birkdale. That’s very important,” said Harrington. “But secondary to that I’m competing to win this Open.”
Sky Sports will show The 146th Open Championship exclusively live as part of a summer of sport that includes Formula One, England cricket and more.