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Harrington always tinkering with game

TURNBERRY, Scotland -- The dedication is to be admired. The decisions of the past several months, since winning back-to-back major championships?

To be determined.

At the moment, Padraig Harrington's mystifying motives remain in question as he attempts to defend his Open Championship at Turnberry, hoping to become the first player since Peter Thomson from 1954-56 to win the tournament three straight times.

For anyone but Harrington, that would be a stretch given his recent form -- five consecutive missed cuts before a victory Saturday at the Irish PGA Championship, a tournament played near his Dublin home that is not sanctioned by any tour.

Perhaps a victory, any victory, is just the sort of boost the Irishman needs, and he has made a career of fighting through adversity to become one of the game's top players.

Still, swimming from the Turnberry shore to the Ailsa Craig seems to make more sense than messing with a major-winning formula -- which Harrington admittedly has done.

"I'm always working on my game,'' Harrington said. "I always do change things during the winter and I have dragged it into the season this year and have been heavily focused on it.

"Essentially it has meant that I've been strengthening my weaknesses, weakening my strengths, and obviously that's not a great idea when you're looking for performance in the short term, but it's a bad idea for looking for performance in the long term.

"There's been a lot of tinkering going on.''

Indeed. And it seemingly makes no sense.

Two years ago at Carnoustie, Harrington became the first European since 1999 to win a major championship. He followed it up last year by overtaking Greg Norman on the final day despite a pre-tournament wrist injury that threatened to knock him out. Then three weeks later, he overtook Sergio Garcia on the back nine to become the first European to win the PGA Championship since 1930.

Harrington rose to No. 3 in the world, then inexplicably made changes that have not taken quickly. This year, he has made just eight cuts in 16 events worldwide, with his last top-10 coming in January at the Abu Dhabi Championship.

"I've been doing this since 15 years of age,'' he said. "I don't think I would be comfortable unless I was changing something. It will be interesting if I ever do get to the end of the road, and obviously that's a never-ending road so I won't get there. But I need to be working on something.''

Why?

Perhaps it is the fear that sitting still means you are actually dropping back. Bob Torrance, Harrington's Scotland-based coach, is a firm believer in hard work and admires Harrington for it. The two hooked up recently for four days just up the road from Turnberry in Largs, where Torrance is based.

"We tried to fix what I thought he was doing wrong, tried to get back to where I thought he needed to be,'' Torrance said. "His basics were fine. Once you get to the top, it's a long road. Once you get off the top, it's just as hard to get back. I think he'll be back. But his confidence was shaken. He'll admit that. He'll be back very shortly I think. I wouldn't be surprised if he won the Open at Turnberry.''

Harrington has always believed himself to be an overachiever, a player who needed to work harder than others to succeed. His doubt dates to his junior golf days when he wasn't always chosen for national teams and struggled to impress anyone with his game.

Even after playing on three Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup teams, Harrington was unsure of his future, which is why he sought a degree in accounting. And Harrington struggled to win after first coming onto the European Tour in 1995.

Now, he is recognized as one of the game's hardest workers, even if some of his methods draw a few stares of disbelief.

"He has hit -- I don't know how many balls,'' said 2006 U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy. "I haven't been on a range this year that he hasn't been on. Every day at the Masters, before I play, there he is. After I play, there he is. At the Memorial, how many top four or five guys do you see practice on the weekend when they miss the cut? It doesn't happen. Padraig is on the range all weekend. That just doesn't happen.

"Obviously he's into what he's doing. I mean he got to where he is because of hard work. That's the way he knows how to get better, so that's the way he's going to do it.''

Harrington recently provided a bit more insight into his ways when he gave an interview to an Irish newspaper, the Belfast Telegraph, at his home.

"If I was a tech nerd, I'd be the guy who pulls apart his computer to see how it works,'' Harrington said. "Of course, I've no interest in doing that to my computer. With my golf game, however, I want to pull it apart and see what everything does.''

And this.

"Howard Hughes. As a 14-year-old kid, he got his dad to buy him a sports car so he could pull it apart. He spent a month breaking it down bit-by-bit and then putting it all back together. Well, that's me with my golf game.''

Harrington hasn't started spending time in dark rooms or growing his hair to ridiculously long lengths, but he does go about his craft in an unusual manner, one that has worked for him so far.

In keeping with his unique ways, Harrington last week played in the Irish PGA Championship, an event that is the equivalent of a club pro championship. The purse was just 26,000 euros, and the winner's share was tip money for a player of Harrington's stature.

But it is played on a links course in Ireland, and Harrington felt it was better preparation for the Open than playing an inland course for the Scottish Open.

Two years ago, Harrington won the Irish PGA in a playoff, then went on to capture the Open at Carnoustie in a playoff.

Last year, he won the Irish PGA by four strokes, then went on to win the Open by four strokes.

This year he won the Irish PGA by seven strokes.

If Harrington is holding the Claret Jug on Sunday after a seven-stroke victory at Turnberry, well … maybe all the madness will have been worth it.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.