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Dramatic day seals No 1 for Harrington

The year-long, multimillion pound European season came down to a mere £23,600 and one measly shot here yesterday, as Padraig Harrington inched past Paul Casey to win his first Order of Merit title. It was an afternoon overloaded with drama, when the calculator must often have seemed the most important tool in the protagonists' bags.

And the critics say this curtain-calling event does not mean anything. They should try asking Harrington, who, on becoming the third Irish winner of the Harry Vardon Trophy, was as proud as any have ever been. Or, if that does not convince them, then what about Casey, the Englishman who sat alone in the locker-room with his head in his hands? His emotions had not so much just been on a roller-coaster as put through a blender.

Indeed, as the holes ticked down in that enthralling last hour, it was forgivable to overlook the fact that India's Jeev Milkha Singh was on his way to winning the Volvo Masters - his most prestigious success by far. In the end, Singh was quite a cosy victor, too, having the comfort of two putts from four feet for a two-under total which secured the £667,000 first prize. But it was what had come to pass on that 18th green, 15 minutes before, that brought the biggest gasp.

By then, the maths were excruciatingly simple. If Sergio Garcia missed his 25-footer for par, then Harrington would move up into a three-way tie for joint second and would finish the 2006 campaign as European No 1. If Garcia holed it, then Casey would hang on. When the putt veered right, Harrington, watching on the television in the players' lounge with his family, started the celebrations, having at last made up for his two Order of Merit runner-up placings in 2001 and 2002.

He had arrived at Valderrama almost £150,000 behind Casey and, on a course he has never truly warmed to, did not overtly fancy his chances. "The bookies had Paul at 1-7 at the start of the week, and that was probably about right,'' he admitted. "But my focus was excellent all week. I never got down on myself, and I never chucked it in.''

He must have been tempted to, though, when he began his final round with two bogeys. Harrington had been four behind the lead when he teed off, but was now six adrift and, with Casey cruising in with a 69 to finish at four-over, Harrington realised that third would not be good enough. In fact, a four-way tie for second would not have been good enough either, although the Dubliner was not aware of that and neither could he have dwelt on it as he had so much ground to make up. But make it up he did, fearlessly, with birdies at the fourth, 11th, 14th and 16th and, when he arrived at the 17th tee, he was in the top four with silverware in sight.

But then he found the water in front of the green; but somehow managed to get up and down for par. Then he found the trees on the 18th, but somehow managed to play a lob-wedge from deep rough to three feet for par. And then, as Garcia started to wobble, and since Luke Donald was the only other player able to make it to the clubhouse at one-under, it suddenly began to dawn that those two miraculous saves were to be the clinchers.

"I'm so proud to be here,'' Harrington said. "When I started off 10 years ago, I would have been happy just to be a journeyman. You know, this is the 30th time I've come second in my career, and I've always said that sometimes second is a good result. This one has been more joyous than the rest, that's for sure.''

For Casey, the disappointment will indeed hurt, especially as he will inevitably come to feel that it all boiled down to a dodgy bowl of pasta. Understandably, he was too upset to talk after yesterday's cruel climax, although on Sunday he had pondered aloud how he might feel if denied at the last. "What would be frustrating would be the bug I picked up here before my first round,'' he said. "It stopped me from ever really being a force in the tournament and competing for the Order of Merit the way I would have wanted.''

Even then, Casey suspected that, with such proven performers as Garcia between Harrington and his required target, he would scrape through. Alas, the Spaniard's final-hole bogey was the costliest he has ever taken. From Casey's perspective, that is. For Harrington, it was priceless.

How they finished

Leading final places on the European Tour Order of Merit:

1 Padraig Harrington (Ire) £1,667,618

2 Paul Casey (Eng) £1,644,002

3 David Howell (Eng) £1,554,959

4 Robert Karlsson (Swe) £1,369,911