Padraig Harrington denied Sergio Garcia his first major yet again last night in scenes so remarkably reminiscent of last year's Open. Just as at Carnoustie the Irishman with the manic eyes broke the little Spaniard's heart and just as at Carnoustie the difference between the pair was so small, while the contrast of fortunes was so great. For unbridled ecstasy see Harrington, for Garcia see bitter agony.
It will be of absolutely no consolation to Garcia that he played a crucial part in a quite spectacular finale of the 90th USPGA Championship, until his nerve portrayed him and he dumped an approach into the water on the 16th and then missed a tiddler on the 17th to eventually lose by two. Yet he was not beaten by a normal golfer, but a man at the top of his game and the top his life. With his third major Harrington has joined an exclusive club and he has every right to. The manner in which he shrugged of his Open hangover here was almost as incredible as the 18-footer he holed for par to finally see off Garcia. To finish with two 66s for a three-under total on a course this demanding was a testimony to his talent as well as his strength.
In winning here at Oakland Hills, Harrington became only the fourth player in history to win the Open and the USPGA in the same season and the first European winner of the USPGA in 78 years. Yet more importantly he established himself as the finest major competitor in golf, other than Tiger Woods. Indeed, Harrington's haul of three majors from the last six is a statistic to rival Tiger and when he returns next year there should be a new world No 2 for him to humble. And on this evidence, Harrington will take some humbling.
At Birkdale he overcame a wrist injury and here he overcame mental fatigue that was debilitating enough to make him declare on Friday night, "I have run out of steam". Well, he hadn't, not even close. Yesterday, the 36-year-old played 27 holes in a combined total of six-under and at the death, he was the player with the will and the fortitude to come through with a cool birdie on the 17th and then the spectacular par save on the 18th. What a finish, what a player.
But feel for Sergio. Poor, poor Sergio. How will he cope with coming so close again, especially as it was the Dubliner who did for him again? The Ryder Cup team-mates are not close and prior to last night had not even had a proper conversation since their dramatic showdown on the Angus links, when Harrington clawed back a six-stroke deficit in the final round before breaking his little rival's heart in the play-off.
After three days of decidedly dull fare the USPGA came to life in a day that crackled from the 7am start required to get the event done on time. After a morning 69, Garcia began the final round three behind Ben Curtis, but tore into the deficit with a staggering start. He birdied the first, put a nine-iron to five feet to eagle the par-five second and when he also birdied the short sixth, courtesy of a Seve-like recovery chip from the middle of a clump of trees, he was four-under for his round. While Oakland Hills had been rendered far easier thanks to the sodden green which would now hold a ball, that was still some beginning. It had taken him level with Curtis and when the American took bogeys at the eight and ninth, he had the lead and Harrington emerged as his principal challenger.
Three brilliant birdies in four holes from the 10th brought Harrington up alongside Garcia and so the scene was set for a nail-reducing climax. Harrington flew the green on the 14th and bogeyed, but it was the 15th where the action really became interesting not to mention spooky. On the second hole of the play-off at Carnoustie, Garcia hit the flag with his iron tee-shot and he did it again on the par four here with a scintillating approach. Again it ricocheted far further away than it might have done if it had not connected with the pin and again Garcia looked to the heavens. He inevitably missed the 12-footer for birdie and was soon he was looking skywards once more.
The groans from the galleries filled the Detroit Hills when Sergio's second shot on the par-four 16th span back off the back and into the lake. He showed tremendous courage to pitch it to four feet from the drop zone and hold the putt to limit the damage to a bogey. Harrington made his own save for a par on that hole and the pair were again tied. But it was not that straightforward as, in behind, Curtis had also re-entered the picture. It was frenetic stuff.
The 2003 Open champion holed a 15-footer on the 14th to join Harrington and Garcia but then bogeyed on the 15th. His challenge was to end with another bogey on the 17th and it was left to Harrington and Garcia to do what they do. Their tee-shots on the par three 17th were clinical, Harrington spinning it in on the fearsome par three to 10 feet and then Garcia somehow rising above the tension to better the effort with a sumptuous strike to four feet. Harrington nervelessly slotted it home and it was Garcia's turn. His ball lipped the cup and he was behind.
But still Harrington offered him a ray when finding the bunker off his drive on the 18th.
Alas, Garcia also skewed his drive and could only find the bunker with his approach. By then, Harrington had played a nine-iron to 18 feet and the impending challenge was obvious. Make it and the Wanamaker Trophy was his. Harrington made it and the pleasure spilled over. Garcia still had his own 10 footer to secure outright second; it dribbled miserably wide. That summed up a day of high drama and even higher emotions.