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Irish Independent
Irish Independent
Brian Keogh

'I can't always be relying on those scary eyes' - Padraig Harrington still working on the mental side at 51

Padraig Harrington

Pádraig Harrington admits he's had to work on his mental game to adjust to leading after making a fast start in his bid for his third win of the PGA Tour Champions season in the Ascension Charity Classic in St Louis.

The Dubliner, second behind Steven Alker in the race for the $1m Charles Schwab Cup title, made a 12 footer for par at the 18th and shot a bogey-free, six-under 65 to share the first-round lead with Bernhard Langer, one clear of the New Zealander, Ernie Els, José María Olazábal, Mike Weir and Steve Flesch as Darren Clarke shot 68 to share 16th.

He's now becoming accustomed to leading and that's required a new mindset from his regular tour days.

"Traditionally, my whole career I've always been a much better player with my back to the wall," he said. "What I'm finding here on the Champions Tour is I've got to learn how to play, you know, when I'm favourite, when I'm up front, when I'm out leading, when I've got a lead.

"That's a different skill set and it's not something I've ever been -- I've never been really good at it. I was never good at it as an amateur, I was never good at it as a pro. I always found, you know, I was a much better chaser than somebody out in front.

"And the one thing about the Champions Tour now is I've had a few leads and I have to learn, and I am learning. I'm getting better as a player, I'm definitely much more positive about my chances in that situation. Yeah, hard to believe, 51 years of age and I'm getting better mentally.

The reigning US Senior Open champion, he added he's working as hard as ever with his mental coach to get that mindset right.

"I've worked with Bob Rotella over the years," he said. "I'm working with him now 25 years. Never changed, never changed acts, we've always tried to do the exact same thing. I think when I've done it, I've been really good.

"I do it naturally when I'm in trouble. I think you just lose your way at times when you're -- if you miss the cut or are in the middle of the field or you're 30th, you feel like you're so far away from the winning score, you try and bridge a gap, a huge gap, and the only way to do that is to think, well, I've got to change the physical.

"You know, going into these tournaments, there's going to be a strong chance that I'm going to have a chance at winning the tournament with nine holes to play. And you know, nobody can guarantee winning any tournament, it's not like that, but you can get yourself, if you prepare properly, you can get yourself into contention.

"If the right things happen with those nine holes to go, if the output drops, if you don't get a bad break or you get a good break, you can win a tournament, but it's all about being in the position that if you do get a nice break, that it means something."

Admitting he's had to retrain himself to become better mentally, he said: "That's what I have to learn. I said out straightaway after I got comfortable here, I started getting myself in and around the leads a lot and I said to myself, you know what, got to get comfortable with this.

"I can't always be relying on those scary eyes and that focus, can't be relying on that all the time. I've got to have more control of what I'm doing rather than necessarily relying on the outside agencies."

Meanwhile, Leona Maguire carded a bogey-free five-under 67 to move closer to the leaders in the Kroger Queen City Championship presented by P&G in Cincinnati.

The world No 15 is tied for 12th on seven-under par, six shots behind Jeongeun Lee6, whose nine-under 63 gave her a one-she lead over Chinas' Xiyu Lin.

Stephanie Meadow shot another one-under 71 to share 45th on two-under.

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