Even at the moment he appears to be storming back as a force, Padraig Harrington refuses to be fooled into believing in Indian summers and career renaissance.
As Rory McIlroy walked away with a third missed cut in hios last four events and his Royal Birkdale preparation in bits, Harrington heads to Southport, the scene of his second Open Championship victory sharing the lead in the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open at Dundonald Links after opening rounds of 67 and 68, indicating the salad days of 2007 and 2008 have returned and the old master of seaside golf is about to regain his crown.
Harrington has seen too much in his career, however, to think that. The 45-year-old is not surprised where he is at the halfway point of this $7 million tournament, but he won’t be surprised by a reverse change in fortune either.
“I’m not even close to being surprised, it will happen pretty regularly,” he said of his good form. “I can’t say it’s going to happen into next week, and I know I can’t do it on demand.
“I will have tournaments like this when I shoot good scores. But I don’t know what’s going to happen over the next few days.”
Harrington has seen enough players rage against the dying of the light late in their careers to believe that he won’t be the same.
“I’ve always known I can’t do it on demand. But I now accept that I can’t,” he said.
“I’m not so pedantic on the golf course. If I win another major, going from three majors to four, it’s not that big a deal, is it? It’s not going to change, I’ve done what I’ve done in the game of golf. Why bother beating yourself up about it?”
As a distinguished elder statesman now, Harrington enjoys the role and his relationship with the younger players.
“It’s most important to have guys you enjoy playing and can get away from the gold between shots,” he said. “There was a nice bit of buzz (with Ben An and Anirban Lahiri) today.
“I always remember in 1997 at the Vines in Australia I shot 63 playing with Andrew Coltart and Brett Ogle, and Brett told a different joke on every hole. He was funny like that.
“So we were hitting our shots and huddling together laughing walking down the fairways and on the last hole the caddie had to tell me how I was doing. I had no idea.
“You have to get your mind away from the golf between shots because it’s stressful. The guy who bears down hard Thursday, Friday and Saturday sometimes doesn’t have the energy on Sunday.”
Harrington’s second round was “just boring” with no stress, given his many adventures and escapes on Thursday.
The elder statesman could hardly share the lead with two more fresh faced rookies than Alexander Knappe and Calum Shinkwin. Knappe, a Challenge Tour graduate last year, was out in 30 with six strokes gained in five holes on his way to matching the low round of the week.
Shinkwin is in his second year on tour and endured a run of nine events from January to late June that included five missed cuts, two disqualifications, a retiral and a withdrawl.
The second disqualification came when frustrations got the better of him, and a pitching wedge got some retribution. It was damaged, and he played one shot with it, and when he realised he disqualified himself.
Back on the links swing, however, the former English amateur champion who has tried his hand at boxing, tyre-fitting and as a roofer, made cuts in France and Ireland, and has carried that form into Dundonald.
But the casualties at Dundonald were considerable, led by McIlroy who tried manfully to be optimistic after without much evidence to back him up.
He’d repaired the damage of Thursday’s 74 with three birdies to the turn only to take two in a bunker for a six at the 13th, which he also doubled on Thursday. At the last Rory needed a birdie to have a chance and an eagle to be sure of making the weekend, but missed the green wide left in two and then didn’t even endanger the hole with his six foot birdie putt.
“I’d be much more worried if I went out there and shot a couple of 76s and be nowhere near trying to make the cut or whatever,” he said, before conceding that he still wasn’t tournament ready.
“I haven’t had enough competitive rounds this year,” he said. “With the injury I’ve missed a lot of events but you can’t really mess with that, and you can’t come back too early. I’ve sort of been playing catch-up all year.
“I would have loved to have played more rounds going into, not just The Open, but the rest of the year. But I’m sort of trying to learn as I go along.”
He’ll do some more by going early to Birkdale for more practice, and he was in pretty decent company among those going south two days early.
Defending champion Alex Noren shot a 76 coming home in 41 having been poised to make it comfortably at three-under with nine to play, but there was a deluge of cut missers to match the evening rain when the cut finally fell at one-under.
Americans Patrick Reed, Jason Dufner and Stewart Cink fell on the cut mark, as did Scots Russell Knox and Marc Warren, former US Open champion Martin Kaymer and last year’s runner-up Tyrell Hatton.
For Knox, after rescuing a 70 from a double bogey start, it was an excruciating miss.
“After playing the first hole like a 15-handicapper I played pretty good, but it’s devastating to miss,” he said.
“I was in big trouble after starting with a double and had to dig deep, being around for the weekend means everything. It would have felt like a turning point to make the cut.
“Round one is killing me. It’s been a long time since I cruised a nice three or four under to relax into the tournament.”