The Bookies' Dark Horse
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland There are few more savvy observers of golf's formbook than British bookmakers, and the odds offered this week have surprised at least one of their favorites: Padraig Harrington. According to the bookies, Harrington is the fourth favorite to win behind only Tiger Woods, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson. He is also the only one of the four without multiple majors on his resume. In fact, at 35, the Irishman is still searching for his maiden title.
"I am surprised," Harrington said of the odds. "It's nice to be considered in that position. It doesn't help me win the golf tournament. It doesn't give me an extra-shot start on the first tee. If you turned around and told me I was 100-to-1 this week, I wouldn't be trying any less."
There are two probable reasons that the odds makers favor Harrington: his record at Carnoustie and his pre-Open preparation. The world No. 10 has twice won the European Tour's Dunhill Links championship, which is contested over three courses, including Carnoustie. And while Els and Mickelson battled over a parkland course in the Scottish Open at Loch Lomond, Harrington opted to play in the low-profile Irish PGA Championship at the European Club near Dublin. The European Club is a tight, difficult links course similar to what the players will face this week. He won the title in a playoff against his friend Damian McGrane, having birdied the final hole of regulation to tie.
Harrington predicted that Carnoustie will play much easier this year than the famously tough test of 1999.
"Carnoustie hadn't held an Open for a long time, and they weren't sure how the golf course would hold up," he said. "They obviously went and erred on the side of 'Let's make it as tough as Carnoustie is meant to be.' This time around they have the experience of '99 and they realize now they have a very strong golf course that doesn't really need anything extra put in it. I prefer to go to a tougher golf course and for them to use fair pin positions rather than go to an easy golf course where the pin positions get extreme. So if the course plays too easy we'll find more tough pins. If the course plays good and tough, we'll find fair pins."
As Europe's top ranked player through much of the continent's eight-year drought in the majors, Harrington also laughed off a suggestion by former champion Nick Faldo that the current crop of European stars haven't won a major because they're too nice.
"I don't believe any of the players can't win a major just because they're nice guys," he said. "Surely that doesn't stop you from winning a major. That couldn't be it. Nice guys do win."