Harrington completes unlikely triumph in style
Sunday 20 July 2008
Five days after Nick Faldo told him to "pull your finger out" and four days after he still feared a wrist injury might keep him out, Padraig Harrington was tonight celebrating more Open Championship glory.
And this time it came in glorious four-stroke style without the agonies of 12 months ago when he double-bogeyed the last and had to go into a play-off with Sergio Garcia.
Instead, on a Royal Birkdale course and in winds that tested everybody to the limit, two birdies and an eagle in the last six holes made Harrington the first European to make a successful defence of the Claret Jug since James Braid in 1906.
He can also now call himself the first Irishman ever to win two majors - and the world number three.
Ian Poulter had made a terrific late bid - he covered the last 10 in three under - to become Britain's first major champion since Paul Lawrie in 1999.
But, having been caught, Harrington went into overdrive with birdies on the 13th and 15th before hitting a glorious second to four feet on the downwind 572-yard 17th that effectively clinched victory.
There were only nine other eagles there all week.
Since the Second World War the only men to have retained the title are Bobby Locke, Peter Thomson (he did three in a row), Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson and Tiger Woods.
Oh yes, Tiger Woods. He was not here this week. But if he had been he too might have struggled to beat Harrington's three over par total of 283.
A closing one under 69 gave the 36-year-old Dubliner his commanding win over Poulter - comfortably his best-ever performance in a major - with Greg Norman and Henrik Stenson third.
Norman, the 53-year-old 54-hole leader had set out with the dream of becoming the oldest winner in major history.
He lost the lead with a terrible start, got it back by the turn, but was chasing a losing battle when he bogeyed the 13th and 14th.
When you pause to think about it, however, third place is phenomenal.
Harrington was fully deserving of centre stage by the end.
Having not been in an automatic top 10 place in Faldo's Ryder Cup side he now tops the standings.
Poulter was at the same dinner where Faldo gave his "pull your finger out" message and it presumably emphasised that he was on the outside looking in too.
He still is, but has now let Faldo know what form he is in and how much he wants it.
Norman, a part-time golfer these days, had unquestionably left his mark on the week, though, and had captured the imagination of the sporting world by doing what he had on the opening three days.
Birkdale was a warm-up for this coming week's Senior Open at Troon, but once he started with a level par 70 to be only one off interest started to mount.
New wife and tennis great Chris Evert - a winner of 18 Grand Slams in her career - was part of the story too, their marriage on June 28 enabling Norman to begin a new chapter in his action-packed life following a £50million divorce settlement.
It was the eighth time he had taken a lead into the final day of a major, but the first since that unforgettable round at Augusta in 1996 when, six clear, he collapsed to a 78 and Nick Faldo pounced with a 67 to win by five.
Only once on those seven previous occasions had he gone on to triumph - at Sandwich in 1993 he was one behind after 54 holes - and the spectre of those loomed again when he bogeyed the first three holes.
Let us not remember them, though. Let us remember his contribution instead.
Harrington parred the first six before his smooth progress came to a halt when he had three successive bogeys and turned one behind.
They were back level, though, when Norman bogeyed the 10th and at seven over by then, of course, the chasers still had hopes.
Poulter, six behind at the start like Harrington was last year, had bogeyed the first and third, but it then became one of the rounds of his life.
After a birdie on the 414-yard ninth to turn in 35 he struck a glorious approach to five feet at the 11th and made that.
He was still only fourth at that stage while compatriot Simon Wakefield had moved into a tie for second, but as Wakefield, without a European Tour win in 210 starts, felt the heat and so did both Norman with further bogeys at the 12th and 13th and also Wood after he had brought back memories of Justin Rose 10 years ago by moving into third place after 10 holes, Poulter sensed a great chance.
In went a 15-footer on the 16th to tie Harrington and, after the disappointment of three-putting the long 17th for par and then coming up short right of the final green, leaving himself an awkward chip, he sank a 15-foot par-saver to the road of the crowd.
Harrington had regained the outright lead with an 18-foot birdie putt on the 13th by then, so with him six over and Poulter in on seven over the task was clear - play the last five in level par providing Norman did not get back into it with a dazzling finish.
The 1986 and 1993 champion did birdie the long 15th, but Harrington matched that and so led by two from Poulter and three from Norman.
A par on the next and he was almost there. Two holes later he was.
And this time he had been able to enjoy the walk down the 72nd.
He had indeed pulled his finger out.
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