Friday, 19 March 2010
The joy of winning The 34th Ryder Cup Matches triggered emotive celebrations for followers of European golf, and for Padraig Harrington the euphoria of success lingered on as he launched The 2003 European Tour International Schedule by winning the BMW Asian Open at Ta Shee Golf & Country Club on the outskirts of Taipei in Taiwan. This was Harrington's first win on the Asian continent, and his sixth on The European Tour since he turned professional in 1995 after playing no fewer than three Walker Cup matches.

Harrington’s calculated progress is consistent with his approach to golf. He visualised that the power and the glory was around the corner when, at the start of the 1990s, he first came to prominence with golf of the highest calibre, challenging the likes of Darren Clarke and Paul McGinley for the top titles in his homeland. Even so, he determined to devote himself to amateur golf and to completing his studies to become a certified accountant.

He valued his education and that manifested itself on the golf course, too, where his maturity enabled him to absorb information and improve his technique in an orderly fashion. The learning process was galvanised by a two day session in May 1991 with Nick Faldo and David Leadbetter although at that time his trusted coach was Walter Sullivan at the Grange Golf Club, on the outskirts of Dublin.

Harrington also benefited from remaining an amateur because in Ireland the big events attract huge galleries so his game prospered as he learned to cope with distractions and develop his course management.

So by the time he turned professional, at the ripe old age of 24, and 20 years after hitting his first shots with a cut down eight iron, Harrington was conditioned to what life would be like on the professional circuit. He was a class act arriving in a brave new world, prepared only to look to the future and not to live in the past, and with his modest attitude and engaging smile there was universal belief that he was a real talent.

Some observers, however, suggested that he lacked the killer instinct to become a true champion. Indeed in 2002 they were still pointing to such things because of his record that season of only one win - the dunhill links championship the week after The 34th Ryder Cup Matches - from ten top ten finishes and a further seven top 20 finishes on The European Tour International Schedule. They should have known better.

Harrington is a slave to the game. His devotion to the practice range is legendary; his determination to succeed reflected by the time he also spends on personal fitness. Harrington does not drink alcohol, although he did sip a glass of champagne as he digested the importance of this first triumph in Asia.

Sometimes a break from your normal schedule is essential. Yet it was a deviation from his customary routine that might have soured the moment for Harrington. Put quite simply he took his eyes off the ball, and peered instead at a leaderboard as he hit the stretch in the final round.

“I don't watch leaderboards at all but I looked at one when I got to the 15th green because my round had got a bit static and I was looking for something to get it going,” he explained. “Unfortunately it had the reverse effect and all of a sudden I got defensive.

“Before I looked at the board I was thinking I would need to get to 17 or 18 under but then I saw the nearest to me was on 14 under so that's probably why I became defensive. It can be very dangerous to watch scoreboards!”

The irony was that the defensive thoughts which so abruptly invaded the mind led to a situation on the last green which did much to silence those who doubted his ability to deliver the killer blow.

He found himself with a ten foot putt in fast fading light for victory and confidently rammed the ball into the sanctuary of the hole. This was not the way Harrington had thought the BMW Asian Open would end but, in the circumstances, it proved a point.

From the start the tournament had unfolded in a way which is, perhaps, more in keeping with Harrington's mode. He stuck to the tails of the leaders, massaging his confidence with a crispness in his play that was clear to all, and an opening flawless 66 enabled him to share second place with Maarten Lafeber, of The Netherlands, and Germany's Sven Strüver, one behind India's Jyoti Randhawa. Harrington had 18 birdie putts and holed six of them which, in the wind and rain, was a tribute to his outstanding striking.

Lafeber, joint third in the 2001 Caltex Singapore Masters, has a liking for Asia which he continued to demonstrate with a second successive 66 to move four shots clear at the halfway stage of South Africa's Trevor Immelman, who collected four birdies and an eagle in his 67, and Harrington (70). This was the third time in six weeks that Lafeber had led at the halfway stage, and he was to remain in pole position with a third round of 71 for 203, one ahead of Harrington and Immelman.

Four birdies in the first seven holes of his final round swept Harrington into the lead, but after glancing at that leaderboard, he was required to hole from eight feet to save par at the 16th then dropped a shot at the 17th. So, when he missed the green at the par three 18th and chipped to ten feet, he was obliged to show that when the going gets tough, the tough do indeed get going.

Harrington made no mistake with the putt, denying the fast finishing Randhawa by a single shot, and, after finishing runner-up two years in succession on the Volvo Order of Merit, he was able to quip: “It's great, finally, European Number One!”

Mitchell Platts

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Tournament Leaderboard

Pos Player nameNatHolePar
1HARRINGTON, PadraigIRL18-15
2RANDHAWA, JyotiIND18-14
T3PITTS, AndrewUSA18-12
T3IMMELMAN, TrevorRSA18-12
T3LAFEBER, MaartenNED18-12
6JAIDEE, ThongchaiTHA18-11
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