Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

Harrington walks into golfing history with second title

The world of golf roared itself hoarse yesterday as Padraig Harrington, his face wreathed in smiles, swaggered into history at Royal Birkdale.

Harrington no longer belongs just to Ireland. His mastery of this game, not to mention his affable, outgoing nature, have elevated him into the pantheon of golf's international superstars.

This universally popular Irishman's investiture into the exclusive club of back-to-back winners at the Open Championship yesterday could not have been more different than his heroic triumph over adversity at Carnoustie last summer.

Harrington won with all the style, panache and class one might expect of the game's greatest players, giving himself and caddie Ronan Flood the opportunity to fully enjoy one of the most privileged walks in sport, the champion's march up 18 at The Open.

Four strokes ahead of his nearest rival, Ian Poulter, after setting-up a spectacular eagle with the shot of his life into 17, Harrington and Flood revelled in the luxury of knowing The Open was won once he'd slammed his final tee shot straight down the middle.

This time there were no bridges for that ball to cross and the dark, cold waters of the Barry Burn were a distant memory.

They simply looked at each other and laughed like schoolboys as they scampered after Harrington's ball to the 18th green, the roar rising with every step they took until it reached a remarkable crescendo.

It was as if the Anfield Kop had moved to Birkdale. After this victory, Harrington can be assured he will never walk alone in history. Forever in history, his name will be associated with the 16 men who have retained the Claret Jug.

Harrington two-putted for his par and a closing round of 69 which left him on three-over for the Championship ... it is a measure of the ferocity of the weather that his winning total at Birkdale was 10 strokes greater than at Carnoustie.

The list of players who have etched their names on this famous trophy's plinth in consecutive years since the second world war is: Bobby Locke, Peter Thomson, Arnie Palmer, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson, Tiger Woods and now Padraig Harrington.

The shot which truly defines Harrington's elevation to the sta

tus of two-times Major winner is that five wood he played into a pin tucked up at the back of the 17th green. As they stood over his ball in the middle of the fairway, Harrington listened carefully as his caddie suggested they might lay-up. "I'm three ahead," he replied to Flood.

"No, you're two, Ian Poulter is in the clubhouse at seven-over," the caddie corrected ... all day, Harrington had paid no heed to the scoreboards, remaining totally focussed on his own golf game in the treacherous, buffeting sea-breezes.

"Right, we'll go for it," Harrington insisted, deciding to take on the 272 yards shot to the pin. Delighted that his ball had come to rest on a hanging lie, improving his prospects of keeping it below the wind on its journey to the green, and that's precisely how it flew, rolling just three feet past the hole.

The Irishman rolled home the downhill putt for his second eagle in two days on this hole. After sublime birdies on 13 and 15, that stroke of genius with his five wood persuaded Poulter to leave the practice ground, where he'd been warming up for a possible play-off since shooting a 69 of his own.

Inevitably, it was suggested to Harrington that he is now the greatest achiever in the history of Irish sport but, typically, no such thought had even crossed his mind.

"Things like that will sink in over the next couple of days. You know, one of the keys to playing well on a Sunday is you don't ever get into the consequences of what you are doing," he said.

"I did that very well today. I never at any stage started to think what it might mean to win a second Open or a second Major. Obviously winning a Major puts you in a special club, but winning two of them puts you into a new club altogether."

Now the 26th different player to record multiple victories in the Open and 32nd to win two majors, it is a measure of the enormity of Harrington's achievement that he's the first European to retain the Claret Jug since James Braid in 1905 and 1906.

On the subject of Europeans, Harrington now leaps to the head of the Ryder Cup world points list with a victory which also propels him into third in the world rankings, his highest ever placing, behind only Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.

Poulter is close to clinching his place on the European team to face the US in Valhalla next September after a performance which will do much to alter his image from self-proclaimed clothes horse

of world golf to a thoroughbred performer.

Though Greg Norman's triumphal march through the first 54 holes of this tournament came to an unceremonious end yesterday, the 53-year-old left Royal Birkdale with his head held high after delivering one of the most astonishing performances in the history of the Majors.

Though he played as if he hadn't a care in the world over the first 54 holes, the enormity of his situation finally caught up with the Australian during first few holes yesterday. Two ahead of Harrington on the first tee, Norman handed that lead to the steady Irishman as he bogeyed five of his first six holes. He would eventually slide into a tie for third with Henrik Stenson on nine over after closing with a 77.

Harrington had a ropey spell himself mid-round, dropping shots at seven, eight and nine, but at all times he maintained his composure. "Knowing it was a tough day, I went out there with a few key thoughts in my head - essentially, to commit to my shots regardless of the results," he said.

"If I look back on my round, there probably was just one shot out there where I failed to commit and that was my tee shot on seven.

"Everywhere else, I hit the ball as good as I could. I was really solid and stayed with it.

"I found putting extremely difficult. Trying to gauge the pace of any putt was difficult, while the lines kept changing because of the wind."

Harrington never ceases to amaze his mind coach, famous sports psychologist Dr Bob Rotella, with the power of his psyche.

Once he convinces himself of anything, Harrington has the happy knack of being able to go out and achieve it, regardless of the wrist injury which on Wednesday made him fear he might not even tee it up in this year's tournament.

Surprisingly, Harrington said that injury demanded so much of his attention that it completely negated much of the pressure of going through Open week as defending champion ... and it limited him to just nine holes of practice, conserving precious energy for the gruelling final 36 holes.

Rotella revealed yesterday that Harrington's confidence was high when they sat down together late on Saturday night. "He looked me straight in the face and said 'I'm going to win this'. At that point I knew the job was done...

"As defending champion, you have the urge to want to go out and do it like you did it last year but each challenge is different and he knew that. He was clear in his head what he had to do and how to do it."

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