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First Open a thriller, this one more satisfying
Padraig Harrington thought he’d win a second major, but he admitted he didn’t know it would be so soon. And, thankfully, he got to soak it all in as he strolled up the final fairway.
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents
SOUTHPORT, England - This time, Padraig Harrington got to enjoy that walk to the 18th green on Sunday at the Open Championship.
Harrington held his cap in his right hand and waved at the fans in those massive grandstands who were giving him a standing ovation. He looked right and left and then right again, soaking it all in. The smile on his face said everything; the laugh lines around his dark brown eyes deepening with every delightful glance.
This was Royal Birkdale, not Carnoustie, where Harrington hit two balls into the Barry Burn and made double bogey on the 72nd hole last year. The end result was the same, though, as the talented and thoughtful Irishman successfully defended the Open Championship he won in a playoff last year with a dominating victory on Sunday.
Harrington didn't come from six strokes off the pace this year. He didn't need Sergio Garcia to stumble, just as he had, on Carnoustie's 72nd hole that day. No, this time, Harrington played in the final group on Sunday, with the great Greg Norman trying to make history and win his third Open at the age of 53, no less, and he was equal to the task.
"Definitely last year was a thrilling win and it was exciting and I was on top of the world when I won," Harrington said. "This year is more satisfying. I feel more accomplished this year. ... I think winning a major gives you some relief that you have one. But I think winning this year will give me more confidence that I could manage what I needed to manage going into the last round.
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"It was the first time I was in the last group of a major tournament on a Sunday. So it's a different pressure, it's a different stress, and I'm delighted that I managed it. I really felt good out there. I hit the ball probably every bit as solid as I've ever hit it, and that will give me confidence going forward, definitely."
Harrington negotiated that triumphant walk with a four-stroke lead thanks to a brilliant 5-wood that had produced a 3-foot eagle at the 17th hole, prompting BBC announcer Peter Allis to say "he's just a showoff" in that droll way of his. But "you can't have enough shots in the lead going down 18 - I proved that last year," the affable Irishman countered with a wry and knowing grin.
"It's always nice to know that you have no more work to do, it's all finished," Harrington said. "I suppose ... the only experience that would beat that is actually holing a putt to win the Open in dramatic sense. But there's no more comfortable feeling and more pleasurable feeling than having a four-shot lead and knowing nothing can go wrong."
Harrington seemingly did everything right on Sunday, even when a string of three straight bogeys drew him even again with Norman at the turn. The determined Dubliner hung tough, though, and broke things open with two birdies and an eagle over his last six holes on the way to a 69 that left him four strokes ahead of Ian Poulter and five up on Norman and Henrik Stenson.
"Padraig played great today," Norman said. "Even though he tried to let it get away in the middle of the round, he came back and performed beautifully and finished like a true Open champion."
He almost didn't get that chance, though. Harrington, who won $1,498,875 for his fourth PGA TOUR title and moved to third in the Official World Golf Ranking, nearly didn't start his title defense after injuring his right wrist using an impact bag last weekend. He limited his practice to nine holes, as a result, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
A conversation with his sports psychologist, Bob Rotella, on Wednesday evening, convinced Harrington he could play -- even if there was pain hitting out of Birkdale's beastly rough. As it turned out, other than a few twinges, the wrist held up in the gale-force wind and sometimes driving rain and bitter cold better than anyone expected.
"I have to look back and there's no question (the injury) pushed everything about coming back to defend to the side," Harrington, who called the injury a "saver," said. "It took a lot of pressure off me, it took a lot of stress off me.
"And another plus was the fact that ... I only played nine holes in practice, and everybody will tell you this has been physically and mentally the toughest week we could ever have in golf. The fact that I didn't play three practise rounds like normal for a major was a big bonus. I was very fresh going into the weekend, and this 36 holes was a real battle."
Harrington plans to take some rare time off and then head to Akron, Ohio, for next week's World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational and the PGA Championship in Detroit in two. He's gearing his schedule toward the majors now, as well as the Ryder Cup, and he wants to contend again - sooner rather than later.
"I got myself vaguely in contention at The Masters, not particularly, but vaguely," said Harrington, who tied for fifth at Augusta National. "U.S. Open, it didn't happen; the Open, it happens. If I can get 50 percent hit rate and get into contention and then that's two a year, and then all you need to do is maybe hit one out of four of those and you're winning one every second year.
"That's a pretty high rate for most of us mere mortals. It's all about getting yourself into position so that you're there or thereabouts with nine holes on Sunday so that if you can make a few things happen, you're in the right spot. I think I've got better at that. I've matured as a player with experience, and with my game. I trust my game more, and I definitely have more confidence in my swing."
One of the game's hardest workers, Harrington is nothing if not a student of the sport. He says if he were standing still, he would lose interest. So he keeps working with swing coach Bob Torrance and Rotella and all his fitness guys. He needs to see improvement and days like Sunday help Harrington know he's on the right track.
"I didn't realize I'd get another major so quickly," Harrington said. "I was confident that it would happen again. ... For the whole time last year I've always said it was great to win my first major. I never put it as an isolated event. I felt I was going to win another one.
"And as I said, it's come around a little quicker than I thought, but it's very sweet that it's happened so soon."