PADRAIG Harrington returns to this week’s D+D Real Czech Masters hoping to go one better than his debut appearance in Prague 12 months ago.
The Irishman finished runner-up to Andrea Pavan after a thrilling final day battle.
The 2020 Ryder Cup Captain shared a three-stroke lead with the Italian going into Sunday last year at Albatross Golf Resort.
And it was Pavan who upset the odds by toppling the three-time Major winner courtesy of a blistering back-nine performance.
Harrington said: “I’ve been injured earlier this year with the broken wrist and I’m back playing for a few months now.
“But they tell me it’s going to be close to the end of the year before it’s fully healed in the sense that I won’t be thinking about it.
“It doesn’t seem to affect my golf swing. It affects me a little bit on some of the bunker shots and chip shots.
“I’m good to play though, it’s not getting in my head on the golf course.
“It was very tight last year, there was a great ebb and flow to that final round. It was exciting, the golf was good.
“It was low scoring so there were birdies as well. There was plenty of drama.
“I thought I had it, all the way up to the 69th hole where I missed a short putt, and then he holed a big putt on the 70th hole and had a two-shot lead with two holes to play.
“There weren’t enough holes for me to come back,” Harrington added.
Harrington’s last European Tour win came three years ago at the Portugal Masters – and he has struggled to build any consistency in the 2019 campaign following a wrist injury over the winter break.
So the winner of back-to-back Majors in 2008 will be hoping memories of his best performance of 2018 can provide a welcome confidence boost in Prague.
The 2007 and 2008 Open winner’s fellow multiple Major winner – Ernie Els – makes his debut this week, while former World No. 1 Lee Westwood returns for his fourth consecutive appearance at Albatross.
Westwood said: “I played well at Royal Portrush and then I’ve had three weeks off since then.
“I’ve been down to Portugal for a couple of weeks for a holiday with my fiancée and my family, and I’m looking forward to getting going again.
“It’s nice to be playing again after such a good performance at The Open.
“The way I approach tournaments now has changed. I take it less seriously but I still try my hardest.
“If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen, you can only try your best and that’s what I try and do each time I go to a tournament.
“The last thing I want to do is turn up at a tournament and not want to be there. I want to be keen to play at every tournament.
“I’m 46 now so it means I can’t play as many. I enjoy it a lot more,” Westwood added.
“It’s a good golf course. It’s pretty straightforward. The course has been designed well and shows you where you need to hit it, and then it’s up to the individual to execute it.
“There’s a lot of water out there, there’s a lot of risk and reward if you want to take it on. There’s a little bit of rough this year which will be better for me. It should set up well and I’m looking forward to it.”
Els revealed that like Harrington, he has also been battling injury.
The South African said: “I have had a lot of treatment on my back. It’s nothing too serious but serious enough that I couldn’t play an event recently.
“When the ball’s in the rough, it’s tough to follow through. I’ve had it before so we worked it out and it should be good.
“It’s a beautiful hotel here, and a beautiful city. There has been a lot of rain and so it will be very different from last year, but we will see as we go along.”
Defending champion Pavan can’t wait for play to get under way on Thursday morning.
Pavan, who added a second career win in Germany in the BMW International Open, earlier this summer, said: “It’s nice to be back.
“Last year was a very special week and I was looking forward to coming back here for a long time so finally to be here is great.
“Early on in the year I didn’t have a great start and then my game has been trending upwards.
“That win in Germany was very special, it got me into The Open, got me way up in the rankings and set up the rest of the year.
“The Open was a great experience, it was obviously a big week. I didn’t perform as well as I’d like but I felt good playing it, I felt like I was part of it, not just excited to be there.
“This week I’m here to try to defend and play as well as I can. I feel like I’m coming in with some form so hopefully I can do very well.”
Bernd Wiesberger, currently second in the Rolex Race to Dubai rankings, also plays – as does Frilford Heath’s Eddie Pepperell, who accepted a late invite and enters as the highest-ranked player in the field.
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