Monday, 11 August 2008

USPGA Episode IV - Harrington Putts Garcia to bed again...

Harrington shows his delight on hearing of Nicole Cooke's Gold Medal

Let's rewind to July 15th, Padraig Harrington is giving some of the most down beat interviews of his career, explaining to the media about his wrist injury picked up slapping a club into an impact bag, a practice he has done for years without problems. Were it not the Open he wouldn't be teeing it up at all that week he says, looking for all the world like a man who didn't defend his trophy come Sunday. But despite carrying that niggle for the first round or so, he did defend and was promising more to come as he got his hands back on the Claret Jug. Knowing he was now in the exclusive club of double Major winners, he said he fancied joining that even more exclusive club of men with three to his name. Today, quicker than maybe he dared dream, he's a card carrying member of that little group and finds himself in yet another, a winner of back to back Major Championships.

With speculation rife as to who was going to be the man to make the most of Tiger's absence from the game, Padraig Harrington has emphatically answered that question. It's him. Harrington is now in hot pursuit of Phil Mickelson's second place in the World rankings and will now be looking forward to seeing what he can do in the Major's next year when Tiger is back in the field.

Coming into the USPGA, expectations were high that we could see the first European winner of the event in 70 years (a statistic skewed by a lack of european representation for the majority of that time). Even Paul Azinger, perhaps in a bit of kiddology which didn't go his way, even said he expected a European triumph. Time he started backing his own troops... Those predictions were proved excellent as we were treated to what amounted to a repeat of the four hole play-off at Carnoustie 2007 between Harrington and Sergio Garcia in the closing stages, this time with Charlie Wi along for the ride, more as a spectator with his chances gone. Most played 36 holes today, but the last four of these two men was the story.

As they approached the 15th tee Harrington was 2 under, Garcia 3 under and you had the feeling it was going to be a case of who could better the other, even with Ben Curtis also just one behind Sergio. Garcia might have had his first sense that history was about to repeat itself as his punched approach struck the pin, almost disappeared into the hole but wound up perched six feet away above ground, just as happened in his closing holes in 2007. As it was he narrowly missed his birdie chance and with Harrington sliding his past from 10 feet, both walked off with par, Garcia perhaps bemoaning his luck when the pin probably saved him a forty footer.

Whether this played on his mind or not, Garcia was int trouble on 16 when his second found water. In reaction Harrington plays safe but goes way left into sand. Nerves are jangling. Sergio recovers well from the drop zone pitching to five feet, Harrington 10 feet away with with his bunker shot. Harrington holes out in a magnificent display of putting under pressure to make his par, and with Garcia making bogey we're all square going to the 17th.

The long par three is a daunting prospect at this stage, but the tee is forward today to give the closing groups a chance at birdie and increase the drama. My mind is again dragged back to the Open play-off as Harrington strikes a majestic shot to seven feet or so. Garcia has to watch as Charlie Wi takes his turn and hits a ridge in the middle of the green and his ball rolls forty feet left on the green. He's seen the consequences of a poor shot now as he walks up to the tee marker and having just made bogey you fear this might be the shot that gives another major away. With a six iron in his hand (Padraig hit five), he gives it an almighty rip, and it lands inside Harrington, something he never achieved in that play-off when Harrington's iron play gave him no chance. The pressure is back on Padraig, but the putt is never anything but dead online as he drains his birdie chance. It's a blow for Sergio then as he watches his ball lip out of the hole and he now has it all to do on the last, Harrington's one up.

Hope blossoms for the Spaniard once more however as Harrington nervously watches his drive sail right. The tee again moved forward has brought the bunker into play and the ball duly finds it, as though it wants to build the drama a bit more. It's a horrible uphill lie on the face with no shot to the green. Sergio has his chance. He rolls up his sleeves, knowing he needs a good one but his drive is a disappointment as it too goes right, into long rough. He has a shot though, where Harrington doesn't. Ben Curtis is through the back of 17, his prospects fading.

The lie in the bunker proves as tricky as it looked; Harrington's back foot slipping as he gets a gallon of sand but little of the ball and it flops in the rough only forty feet in front of him. Sergio has to cut the ball to get at the green, but this proves too much and he gets the greenside bunker. Harrington is now surely thinking he needs something good or he will find himself in another play-off and what he produces is pretty great, getting to 15 ft from thick rough. Unsighted in the bunker, Garcia gets to 10 ft. He smiles broadly as he gets a great read of his putt from Charlie Wi's effort. Ben Curtis bogeys 17 and is on 1 under now, it's definitely Padraig or Sergio.

The Irishman then, has a 15 footer and with a cool head strokes it in to take the championship. It's his 11th single putt green for a total of 26 putts, only 11 of which were on the back nine, an incredible display under that pressure and one which won this tournament. Crestfallen, Garcia's putt shaves the edge yet again but his 1 under total is enough for joint second. Ben Curtis didn't manage to hole his second at the last to force a play-off and it was only right he didn't rob Garcia of second place with a birdie. That would have been cruel. Harrington walks off the green, with that lopey swagger looking all the more appropriate as his status increases, gives a kiss to the wife and a kiss to the Wanamaker Trophy (no relation to Zoe as far as I know) as he goes to sign his winning scorecard.

Garcia didn't so much throw this one away, instead he yet again came up against a formidable Harrington, whose composure on the big stage is now rivalled only by the Man who wasn't here, Mr Woods. Back to back 66's was always going to be a tough act for Garcia to match. If he needs it he can seek consolation in the fact that Harrington was once famous as the man who always came second, the eternal bridesmaid. Now at the age of 36, he has punched out three majors out of a possible five. Sergio undoubtedly has the talent to do the same kind of thing and at only 28 has time on his side. Take your seconds, your wins will come. He also ensured his place at the Ryder Cup, responding to Nick Faldo's call to get himself qualified automatically. It worked too with Harrington at the open, we wait to see who he gives the order to qualify to next, it's working a treat.

Image coutesy of Getty Images.

1 comment:

Patricia said...

It really was a great Sergio/Padraig show yesterday, sadly, not seen by huge numbers. Remarkable that there were 13 different nationalities in the top 20 too.

Really nice blog BTW!