Harrington at Bethpage on Thursday (Credit: Golf  Week)

It was good to see the Irish flag fly highest at Bethpage Black on Long Island this Thursday as Padraig Harrington led the field with a smashing 7 under par.

With all the confusion and rhetoric about whether Rory McIlroy was Irish or British or whether he wanted to play for one country or the other it was great to see an unabashed Irishman like Harrington, who has won more majors than McIlroy, take the lead.

The little symbol of the green white and orange beside his name is unambiguous. This is an Irishman through and through, clear in what he represents, with no apology to anyone.

When Rory McIlroy plays it is under the flag of Northern Ireland, which is his statement of  identity that he is perfectly entitled to make. I just can’t cheer him on with the same fervor as I can Harrington though.

I understand McIlroy has to tread carefully on this issue of  identity, but I’m always proudest when I see the tricolor flying--- that is just the way I feel.

McIlroy and Tiger Woods were supposed to be the big clash of this tournament but Harrington for now at least, has stolen the thunder.

On Monday this week Harrington played at the only Irish golf course in the Tri-State area. The Links at Union Vale golf course is situated in the rolling hills of Duchess County, surrounded by the beautiful landscape of the Hudson Highlands and the Catskill Mountains.

It was built and created by Irish men and women and Harrington’s presence was the greatest event since the opening in 2000.

Maybe it was the Irish spirit there that saw Harrington head for Bethpage with the old fire in his gut and outshoot McIlroy, Tiger Woods and everyone else.

Or maybe it was the recent snide comments by Ryder Cup captain Jose Maria Olazabal that Harrington was unlikely to make the team for the seventh consecutive time unless he did something extraordinary.

Well winning the Barclays would certainly do that and I have the feeling that Harrington likes nothing more than a challenge and will give it a right go. Good  luck to him.