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For the second year in a row Ireland's Padraig Harrington hoisted the coveted Claret Jug. (Heathcote/Getty Images)

Round 4 Recap: Thrills and spills

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Forget all about that asterisk. The only man in the field who could win and not have to answer a single question about Tiger Woods not being at the 137th Open Championship will never have to wonder what if. After all, Padraig Harrington beat the world No. 1 last year for the Claret Jug. So what if Woods was AWOL this year?

By T.J. Auclair, PGATOUR.COM Interactive Producer

SOUTHPORT, England -- There's no need for an asterisk here at Royal Birkdale, folks.

Leading into the 137th Open Championship, all the talk centered around one glaring fact -- this would be the first major championship played without world No. 1 Tiger Woods since the 1996 PGA Championship.

Therefore, certainly there needed to be an asterisk inscribed by the eventual champion's name on the coveted Claret Jug on Sunday evening, seeing as Woods wouldn't be a factor, right?

More Open Championship:
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Open Championship Video
Final Recap
Harrington soaks it all in
Norman disappointed, not mad
Poulter proves his mettle
Verplank's heavy heart
Course Statistics
News Archive

Sure. Unless, of course, your name is Padraig Harrington and the only player in the 156-man field who could honestly say he had been there and done that.

For the second year in a row, Harrington played spectacularly in golf's oldest championship to win the second major of his career. Woods was present in the first -- a playoff win over Sergio Garcia at Carnoustie in 2007, but he wasn't much of a factor (he tied for 12th).

This one at Royal Birkdale seemed close, but was a rout in the end.

The Irishman fired a magnificent 1-under 69 in the final round on Sunday for a 3-over-par 283 total and a four-shot win over Ian Poulter to become the first European in more than a century -- 16th overall -- to win golf's oldest championship in consecutive years. Harrington's 69 was one of only five sub-par rounds on Sunday.

"There's a different satisfaction this year," said Harrington, who became the first non-American and non-Aussie to win one of the nine Open Championships contested at Birkdale. "Last year was a thrilling win and it was exciting and I was on top of the world when I won. This year is more satisfying. I feel more accomplished this year. I feel this one will probably give me more confidence."

While Harrington nixed the notion that a major wasn't truly a major without Woods, there was more than enough excitement to go around.

When the final round started, 53-year-old Greg Norman -- a two-time Open champion -- was the unlikely 54-hole leader, bringing a two-shot advantage into the final round. Try as he might, Norman just couldn't hang on, shooting a 5-over 77 for a 9-over 289 total and a tie for third with Henrik Stenson. Norman's 77 was his worst round of the week by five shots.

Norman started the day with three consecutive bogeys and then tussled back and forth with Harrington and Poulter before derailing with three bogeys in four holes to start the back nine.

"I can walk away from here being disappointed, but I can also walk away from here with my head held high because I hung in there," Norman said. "It looked like it was going to get away from me and I had a couple of unfortunate lip-outs. Maybe if on 11 and 12, if they lip in instead of lip out it's a totally different score. It wasn't meant to be, and you've got to take that with a grain of salt."

All you had to do is take a quick glance at Poulter in his powder pink visor and trousers on Sunday and you knew he was no Tiger Woods. Even still, Poulter made a fine run with three birdies over his final 10 holes on a day when birdies weren't easy to come by. That run put him in the clubhouse at 7 over and gave Harrington something to think about on his closing holes.

"It's all about winning," Poulter said. "I finished second today. I'm not going to hold second place as high as some of my wins. It's all about winning. Padraig has gone out there and shown he's a worthy winner again, and that's what you strive for. You don't strive to finish second, you strive to win, and that's what will make me practice harder and harder."

BY THE NUMBERS
5The number of scores below par recorded in the final round on Sunday.
7The number of players with two Open wins in their career -- a list that includes Padraig Harrington and Greg Norman.
16The number of players, including Padraig Harrington, to win the Open in consecutive years.

Still not convinced that a major without Tiger can't be exciting? How about the way Harrington put an exclamation point on his win by striping a 5-wood from 249 yards at the par-5 17th to within 3 feet of the hole to set up an eagle and ensure that all he needed to win on No. 18 was a triple bogey?

Some might call it "Tiger-like." But on this side of the Atlantic Ocean, it's becoming, "Padraig-like."

"My caddie said to me, 'if you want to think about laying it up...' I asked him the situation," Harrington said. "He said, 'you're two ahead.' I knew I could make birdie if I hit 5-wood. I was anxious that Greg could make eagle going down there, and if I lay up and I make par, all of a sudden I've got a one-shot lead.

"Once I hit it, it was perfect," he continued. "It's one of the few times I think I've heard my caddie say, 'good shot,' before the ball is finished."

So, no, this major did not have Tiger Woods. The buzz leading in wasn't quite the same without him. But in the end, it was one of the most exciting, compelling and intriguing majors in recent memory.

Sergio Garcia, never one to mince words with the media, shed his thoughts on a Tiger-less major prior to the start of the Open.

"It doesn't matter," said Garcia, who tied for 51st. "With all due respect, the Open is bigger than any of us, even Tiger Woods. And if I happen to never play golf again or Tiger happens to never play golf again, the Open will still be played, and that's the most important thing. Nobody is bigger than the tournament itself, and it can be a great player, but it doesn't matter."

It certainly did not matter this week.

TRIVIA QUESTION

trivia
Can you answer this? Including Sunday at Royal Birkdale, Greg Norman has entered the final round of a major championship with the lead on eight occasions. How many of those times was Norman able to produce a victory? See answer at bottom of page
SHOT OF THE DAYROUND OF THE DAY
Padraig Harrington's approach to the par-5 17th with a fairway wood. Harrington hit the ball just to the front of the green and it rolled out to within 3 feet of the hole to set up an eagle that assured the Irishman his second Open win.
David Howell's 3-under 67. The Englishman's 67 was one of just five rounds on Sunday to come in under par. The others belonged to champion Padriag Harrington, Ian Poulter, Ernie Els and Sweden's Robert Karlsson who each shot 1-under 69.

What the top finishers said ...
PlayerPositionScoreComment
Padraig Harrington13 overIt's brilliant to come back and defend. I convinced myself that I could win and I stayed focused and managed to get the job done.
Ian Poulter27 overHats off to Padraig. Going back-to-back is pretty impressive. That's very impressive. You know, the shot he hit into 17 was quite awesome. Every credit to Padriag.
Henrik StensonT38 overI'm very happy with the way I played, I hung in there all week and fought hard.

A LEFT-OUT LEFTY: The Open Championship continues to be the toughest nut of the four majors for Phil Mickelson to crack.

With a 1-over 71 on Sunday, the three-time major champion finished at 14-over 294 and finished in a tie for 19th.

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Mickelson

"The course was set up fair and even in the conditions there was a score out there," Mickelson said. "You could make some birdies on some holes and fight for pars on others, there was enough room to play. It's a great test. This is what the R&A wants, to test the players in adverse conditions and have a course that's set up fair enough to do that and this has been very successful in that."

In 16 Open Championship starts, Mickelson's lone top 10 was a third-place finish at Royal Troon in 2004. Mickelson has at least seven top-10 finishes in each of the other three majors.

Here's a look at Mickelson's history in the Open:

YearCourseFinishScore to par
2008Royal Birkdale G.C.T-19+14
2007Carnoustie G.C.CUT+6
2006Royal Liverpool Golf ClubT-22-5
2005Old Course at St. AndrewsT-60+1
2004Royal Troon G.C.3-9
2003Royal St. George's G.C.T-59+13
2002Muirfield G.C.T-66+6
2001Royal Lytham & St. Annes G.C.T-30+1
2000Old Course at St. AndrewsT-11-7
1999Carnoustie G.C.CUT+13
1998Royal Birkdale G.C.79+28
1997Royal Troon G.C.T-24Even
1996Royal Lytham & St. Annes G.C.T-40Even
1995Old Course at St. AndrewsT-40+3
1994Turnberry (Ailsa Course)CUT+12
1991Royal Birkdale G.C.T-73+8

HOW DID HE DO THAT? England's David Howell fired the best score of the final round with an impressive 3-under-par 67 in more windy conditions to finish in a tie for seventh at 12-over 292. It was easily Howell's best finish in an Open Championship.

Previously, his best finish was a tie for 42nd here at Royal Birkdale in 1998. Remarkably, Sunday's score could have been even better than it was.

"Well, I had three three-putts and shot 67, so that goes to show what can be done," Howell said. "But in the heat of the Open it will be a tall order. I holed a bunker shot as well, so things didn't go against me. Right now, it's not as distastrous as it has been in terms of conditions."

The 67 Howell shot on Sunday was just his second sub-70 showing in 28 rounds at the Open.

TRIVIA ANSWER

trivia
Once. The 1986 Open Championship at Turnberry remains the only time in his major championship career in which Norman has been able to parlay a 54-hole lead into a win.

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