Harrington blows away Norman with flourish of a true champion

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The Independent Online

Budge over Tiger Woods, Tom Watson, Bobby Jones, Old Tom Morris and all you other legends on the Open Championship's top table. There is a new champion to join you in that exclusive club who have retained their title. Step forward, Padraig Harrington, the pride of all Ireland.

Here was a defence of epic proportions, on a course of brutal golfing dimensions. The wind that had defined the entire tournament decided to turn up once again and proceeded to effect an afternoon's drama that, at certain stages, was as intense as Carnoustie '07. Again, Harrington was the hero and in the finale quite a comfortable one, too. He produced one of the outstanding back nines just when it seemed the task might be beyond the Dubliner.

"There's a different feeling this year," admitted Harrington after collecting the £750,00 first prize. "Last year, was a thrilling win, an exciting win and I was on top of the world. But this year was more satisfying. I feel more accomplished. Shooting a good last round when you're under that stress going out in the final group."

Good? This 69 was incredible; his inward half of a four-under 32 fully befitted the honour of becoming the first European to win two Claret Jugs in succession since James Braid in 1906. Harrington's predecessor as Open champion was, of course, Tiger Woods and perhaps the biggest compliment being afforded to the Irishman last night was that the style of his triumph was reminiscent of some of those of the great man. He definitely warrants the world No 3 ranking he now commands

Harrington pulled clear just when a true champion had to and in doing so removed any daft, lingering whispers that his breakthrough major had somehow been a fluke. The 36-year-old promised the world that he would learn from his glory and that it would signal the beginning and not the end. "I was confident I would win another major and I never put it as an isolated incident," he said. "But this has come around quicker than I thought. It's very sweet that it's happened so soon."

It is only when one considers that on the eve of the tournament he was on the verge of withdrawing with a wrist injury – until he agreed with his sports psychologist, Dr Bob Rotella, that he was mentally tough enough to play through the pain – that the full sweetness of this achievement will be understood.

On the betting exchanges there were those so convinced he could not prevail that he had drifted to 80-1. The joke doing the rounds here last night was that if Tiger had won last month's US Open on one leg, Paddy had won this Open with one arm. Harrington, however, was quick to confirm that the injury was not a factor. Indeed, this complex soul even claimed the distraction had helped him deflect his inner attention away from the defence. Whatever, that he prevailed with only nine holes of preparation on Birkdale is just another part of his ever-growing Open legend.

But Birkdale '08 was not only about the first Irishman to win two majors, a fact that surely casts Harrington as the greatest sporting figure in his homeland. There was Greg Norman becoming the oldest player ever to finish in the top three of a major. The 53-year-old could not close out the fairytale but it did inspire everyone. Including Harrington. "I said to him when we were coming down 18 that I was sorry it wasn't going to be his story that was going to being told this evening," Harrington revealed .

And then there was Ian Poulter. He matched Harrington's final round to take second place, the highest finish for an Englishman since Nick Faldo also filled the runners-up berth in 1993. Until Harrington nervelessly closed out the 137th Open, Poulter had created the atmosphere in the air. Chris Wood, meanwhile, had filled that Southport sky with magic. The 20-year-old amateur from Bristol finished in a tie for fifth and the parallels with Justin Rose were extraordinary.

It was breathless stuff right from the very off as the hospitality tents clattered, the grandstands rattled and balls oscillated on greens like marbles on a glass table. Any notion that Norman would build on his two-shot advantage to shame that old statistic of him having led seven times before going into the final round of a major and winning just the once, was soon dispelled with three straight bogeys. Whatever was to come to pass, the Claret Jug would be earned the hard way. As it turned out the Harrington way.

He lost the lead, clawed back the lead and eventually cemented it in famous style. It was touch and go for a while, however, as the pack closed and the tension mounted. Nobody picked up the scent as fearlessly as Wood. Of the last dozen groups he was only the one who managed to break par on the opening nine. Birdies on the seventh and ninth took Wood into a tie for third and even threatened to put the feats of 17-year-old Rose here a decade ago into an eternal shade. Not bad for a boy whose sister texted him on Saturday night: "Are you at that golf thingy?"

A run of blue numbers inevitably struck Wood's card and he lost the chance of victory but not of a quite giddying feat. His 72 earned him the best placing by an amateur since Rose. It was left to Wood's playing partner, Poulter, to take up the home cause and it is fair to say he accepted the invitation with his customary swagger.

After bogeying two of the first three holes, the Englishman produced 15 of the finest holes he will likely ever produce. To notch up three birdies and 12 pars in these conditions, under this sort of pressure, screamed of a fierce competitor who will surely make his second Ryder Cup appearance in September.

Saying all that, it might take a little while for him to get over seeing Harrington finish his round with such assuredness. As Poulter was still saluting the gallery, Harrington was setting himself up for one of the game's most impressive denouements. By then Norman had fallen three behind his playing partner and he knew it was to be the younger man's day. Everyone knew; even Poulter. Harrington's brilliant eagle on the 17th removed any doubt whatsoever.

He floated in a five wood from 249 yards on that par-five to three feet and that was that. It gave Harrington the luxury of walking down the 18th with an unbridgeable advantage; such a contrast to the scenes of 12 months previous when he went plonk-plonk in the water for a double bogey that apparently handed Sergio Garcia his golden ticket.

"You can't have enough shots going down the last as I found out last year," he laughed. "It was a fantastic experience coming down that final hole knowing I had won the Open, knowing nothing could go wrong, knowing there was no more work to do." Indeed, just a champion doing what comes naturally. Winning his title over and over.

Final Open positions

283 P Harrington (Irl) 74 68 72 69

287 I Poulter 72 71 75 69

289 G Norman (Aus) 70 70 72 77, H Stenson (Swe) 76 72 70 71

290 *C Wood 75 70 73 72, J Furyk (US) 71 71 77 71

292 S Stricker (US) 77 71 71 73, P Casey 78 71 73 70, R Karlsson (Swe) 75 73 75 69, A Kim (US) 72 74 71 75, R Allenby (Aus) 69 73 76 74, Ernie Els (SA) 80 69 74 69, D Howell 76 71 78 67, B Curtis (US) 78 69 70 75 .........  * Amateur

The Open's back-to-back winners

*Padraig Harrington (Irl) 2007, Carnoustie; 2008, Birkdale

*Tiger Woods (US)

2005, St Andrews; 2006, Hoylake

*Tom Watson (US)

1982, Troon; 1983, Birkdale

*Lee Trevino (US)

1971, Birkdale; 1972, Muirfield

*Arnold Palmer (US)

1961, Birkdale; 1962, Troon

*Peter Thomson (Aus)

1954, Birkdale; 1955 St Andrews; 1956, Hoylake

*Bobby Locke (SA)

1949, Sandwich; 1950, Troon

*Walter Hagen (US)

1928, Sandwich; 1929, Muirfield

*Bobby Jones (US)

1926, Lytham; 1927 St Andrews

*James Braid (GB)

1905, St Andrews; 1906, Muirfield

*Harry Vardon (GB) 1898, Prestwick; 1889, Sandwich

*B Ferguson (GB) 1880, Musselburgh; 1881, Prestwick; 1882, St Andrews

*J Anderson (GB) 1877, Musselburgh; 1878, Prestwick; 1879St Andrews

*Old Tom Morris (GB) 1869, Prestwick; 1870, Prestwick

*Old Tom Morris (GB) 1861, Prestwick; 1862, Prestwick