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Padraig Harrington wants to win more majors, but for now he's celebrating like this is the pinnacle of his career. (Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
Padraig Harrington wants to win more majors, but for now he's celebrating like this is the pinnacle of his career. (Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

Never feeling defeated, Harrington finds a way to win

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Even after that disastrous double bogey on the 72nd hole, Padraig Harrington refused to allow himself to think he had blown the Open Championship. When he got a second chance, he kept his level head and earned his first major title. 

By Helen Ross, Chief of Correspondents

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland -- Padraig Harrington made sure the sound was turned down on the TV in the scorer's hut Sunday afternoon.

He didn't want to hear the BBC announcers analyze that double bogey he'd just made on the 72nd hole of the 136th Open Championship. He didn't want to think about the one-stroke lead he squandered by hitting into the Barry Burn not once, but twice.

All Harrington wanted to know was whether Sergio Garcia could make par and snatch the Claret Jug away from him, or whether the two European Ryder Cup teammates would be heading into a playoff.

"I never let myself feel like I'd lost the Open Championship as I sat watching," Harrington recalled, the words coming deliberately and forceful in his distinctive Irish brogue. "The one thing, I never, ever had it in my head that I'd lost.

"Now, if Sergio had parred the last and I did lose, I think I would have struggled to come back out and be a competitive golfer. It meant that much to me.

"But I sat there in that hut and I was as disciplined as I could be with my focus not to brood or not to, you know, ifs and whats or buts or if I had done that. I never let it cross my mind that I'd just thrown away the Open."

Turns out, he hadn't. Garcia hit his approach into a greenside bunker, blasted out to 8 feet, but missed what Harrington called an "incredibly unlucky" putt for par that would have given the 27-year-old Spaniard his first major championship.

"I thought he holed it," Harrington admitted. "But as I said in my head going out into those playoff holes, there was a little bit of, I've got a second chance. I didn't have a down after the round, which I think was very important. I kept myself very level all the way through."

Thus reborn, the Irishman made the most of the opportunity -- rolling in a 12-foot birdie putt on the first of the four holes in the Open's aggregate playoff. Garcia, meanwhile, buried his approach in a soggy greenside bunker, then nipped the left edge of the cup with his unsuccessful par putt.

Harrington, who had started the day six strokes behind Garcia, maintained his two-stroke advantage until he came to the fourth playoff hole -- the dastardly 18th that spelled had doom for Jean Van de Velde in 1999 and had been so unkind to the Irishman in regulation.

He played the hole conservatively this time, knowing that even if he made 5, Garcia would need to birdie what Harrington called "essentially the toughest hole in golf." The Spaniard gave himself a chance, just missing a 25-footer, and Harrington sealed his win from 36 inches for bogey.

"Just to see it rolling in there, and I know it was only a short putt, but the emotions of it, I couldn't believe it as it was rolling in from right in the middle hole and I'm thinking (about being) the Open Champion. Am I the Open Champion? What does this mean?," Harrington recalled.

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"There were so many things going through my head. A huge amount of it was genuine shock, and I won the Open Championship. I had a foot to watch it going in there, and it was just amazing, incredible to see it drop."

Harrington joined Masters champion Zach Johnson and Angel Cabrera, who won the U.S. Open, as first-time major winners this year. He's also the first Irishman to win the Open Championship since Fred Daly in 1947 at Royal Liverpool -- and the first European to win any major since the last time the grand dame was played at Carnoustie in 1999.

The son of a Dublin policeman who died two years ago during the Open Championship at St. Andrews, Harrington turned professional at the age of 21 in 1995. The guys he was beating in the amateur ranks were playing for money, and the Dubliner figured he could make a comfortable living, too.

In what he calls "fairytale stuff," though, Harrington won in his 10th start as a pro. But two years later, he played in the U.S. Open at Congressional, shot 76-77 to miss the cut and realized he had work to do.

So Harrington began working on his game with Sam Torrance's father, Bob. He also sought the council of sports psychologist Bob Rotella, who was at his side on the putting green as he warmed up for the playoff Sunday afternoon.

One of the hardest-working players on either side of the Atlantic Ocean, Harrington has now won three PGA TOUR events and 12 others worldwide. Along the way, he had established himself -- as had Garcia -- as "one of the best players never to have won a major."

It's a backhanded compliment in some ways, but a recognition of abundant talent nonetheless. In 36 previous major starts, Harrington had seven top-10 finishes -- including a tie for seventh at the Masters earlier this year and solo fifth at Winged Foot in the 2006 U.S. Open.

The single-minded focus that allowed Harrington to rebound from near-disaster Sunday afternoon was evident as he discussed the future with the media that night.

"My goal was always to win more than one major," he said. "If I ever crossed that threshold to win one, I wouldn't feel like that was the end of my road. It was always very important for me to have ... now that I've won one, I'll try to win another, rather than feeling that this was the pinnacle.

"I'm going to celebrate like it's the pinnacle, but my attitude is, look, I've got other goals now to move on with. I'm certainly going to enjoy this one as it is, for the foreseeable future.

"Forever, actually."

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