NEWS

Padraig Harrington's playoff win at Honda Classic had Ireland buzzing

By Dave George
Published on

 
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – The grandstands and VIP suites are already up at PGA National, plus a new ULTRA Deck along the 16th fairway where food trucks will circle and fans will gather for all manner of digital interactivity and craft beer sampling.
 
This isn't your grandfather's Honda Classic that's being assembled for next week.
 
On the other hand, maybe it is. Ken Kennerly, the tournament's executive director, announced Tuesday that shuffleboard is one of the new activities offered at that new party pit stop on the Champion Course.
 
It's turned into quite an eclectic event, the kind that crowds them in even in years when Tiger Woods can't play, like this one, and has people all over the world wishing they could be in Palm Beach Gardens to experience the glory of a short-sleeved February day.
 
Defending champion Padraig Harrington talked about the Honda's impact in Ireland. That leaves only Asia and other points on the planet's opposite side out of the discussion, or at least it does until recent Phoenix Open winner Hideki Matsuyama goes racing up the leaderboard at PGA National, which he just might do.
 
Speaking of the bonus television coverage that came with his rain-delayed playoff victory here last year, Harrington said, "I was surprised in Ireland that it genuinely shut the country down on a Monday. It was like I was winning a major tournament on that Monday by the amount of people who stopped working."
 
If that idea appeals to you, there will be ample opportunity to play hooky in the coming weeks. Pitchers and catchers from the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals assemble in Jupiter this weekend, and then next week it's world-class golf at the Honda, now in its 10th year at PGA National. If none of that sounds worthy of missing a little work, why not invite the boss along? It might soften him up.
 
The only variable is the weather, which turned out to be a dirty word and a muddy mess one year ago. So much wind and rain plastered the course on Saturday that the main leaderboard got blown into the lake by the 18th green. That kept the crowds down overall, somewhere in the range of 164,000 for the week, but the brilliant sun hanging over Palm Beach Gardens on Tuesday had me thinking they'll flirt with the 200,000 mark in 2016.
 
When you get that many people racing around outside the ropes, it's more than a golf tournament. It's theater, sometimes tragic, occasionally comic but always entertaining.
 
Harrington, for instance, shot a final-round 70 last year to force a playoff with Jupiter's Daniel Berger, then a PGA Tour rookie. A 70 is even par out there, which sounds dull as dishwater. In truth, Padraig's round included four straight birdies on the back nine, a double-bogey in the water on No. 17 and a 15-foot birdie putt on the final hole of regulation.
 
Victory came with a 5-iron to 3 feet on the second playoff hole. And to think that if not for a sponsor's exemption, Harrington wouldn't have played in the Honda last year.
 
Now he's trying to recapture the magic, and working at 44 to remind his body how it's done.
 
At home in Harrington's garage stands a cryotherapy chamber, where on occasion he strips to his shorts and endures temperatures of minus-120 degrees. He does that for six minutes at a time when he's feeling feisty, which is almost always, and he was doing it in December to speed recovery from knee surgery and the nine-week competitive break it caused.
 
"I don't like cold showers but I don't mind the cold gas on my skin," Harrington said. "Basically it draws the blood back to your heart, to keep your heart warm, which is essentially flushing the blood through your system, and that helps out with recovery for a lot of athletes.
 
"It's a nice little add-on, but if you can't afford a cryotherapy unit, just go and have a nice ice bath."
 
No, thanks. I'll just make plans to be at the Honda Classic. That's never failed to get the heart up to jackrabbit pace at one point or another.
 
This article was written by Dave George from The Palm Beach Post and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.