Golf courses are a lot like people. Some are born great, some are ordinary and remain so, while some might appear matter of fact on the surface but have a level of greatness thrust upon them as they grow into maturity.
The circumstances surrounding Padraig Harrington’s victory at Gut Kaden suggested that this course, amidst flat fields north of Hamburg, will forever have an aura about it as it basks in its new found reputation as the place where the affable Irishman may have come of age. The 450,000 euro (£322,474) he won may not have been the richest prize of his career to date, but it was far and away the most significant.
Indeed, there was considerable significance in what happened in Germany over four damp days in May. For once, little of it had to do with Tiger Woods’s presence even though his appearance was enhanced by a vivid orange Lamborghini that was put at his disposal for the week.
In the end though, the fact that the American was competing in Germany for the fifth year in succession was overshadowed because Woods could only finish tied 29th, his worst ever finish as a professional in an event on European soil. His first two rounds of 69-71 were, respectively, four and five strokes worse than Harrington’s and though he matched the Irishman’s scores on Saturday and Sunday, the damage had been done.
The eclipsing of Woods was yet another sign of the improvement in standards on The European Tour. It is doubtful if the World Number One would have been moved to the margins of an event a few years earlier, but now that the Tour has become so strong in depth, what had been unthinkable had come to pass.
On the last afternoon of a tournament in which Woods had only three bogeys, his play was far less important than the performance of the wavy haired Irishman with the ready smile.
Harrington, 31, has become the leading British and Irish player so quickly it is easy to forget that he only turned professional at the end of 1995. Furthermore, because of his cheerful demeanour, courtesy and charm, he has made more friends than most. It is said you learn far more about a man from his behaviour in defeat than in victory and Harrington has borne this out.
Prior to this victory he had come second no less that 19 times in stroke play and match play tournaments, 17 times since the start of the 1999 season. It is said that no-one remembers who finishes second. Yet everyone in golf knew about Harrington and his near misses. He had a record that was on everyone’s lips for the wrong reasons.
However there were not many ifs and buts about Harrington’s tenth victory as a professional other than it came in a one hole play-off with Thomas Björn. Harrington had led after the first, second and third rounds, but in the end he won with a display of nerve and character.
His rounds of 65-66-70-68 totalled 19 under par 269 and although there were nervous moments throughout a long and exciting final afternoon, when five men were in with a chance, it was Harrington who triumphed.
Harrington’s challengers were Niclas Fasth, the talented Swede who made his Ryder Cup debut in 2002, Retief Goosen, the 2001 and 2002 Volvo Order of Merit winner, Graeme McDowell, the promising Irishman in his second season as a professional, and Björn.
Goosen used all his experience to remain a threat until the end, driving well and putting beautifully when the rest of his golf was anything but. Fasth had an electric start to his last round, being six under par after six holes before slipping back, while McDowell just failed to keep pace with the scintillating golf that was being played around him, of which Björn’s 63, that set the mark of 19 under par, was typical.
Björn finished 40 minutes ahead of Harrington, who birdied the par five 15th to draw level but who was not able to birdie the par five 17th to pull clear. Harrington was clearly feeling the pressure and, having found the last green, left the putt he needed to hole to force a play-off with Björn some ten feet short of the cup.
In the hearts and minds of many who were watching there was a sinking feeling. Harrington looked as though he was about to come second once more. But he bravely holed the putt, the ball bolting into the middle of the hole, and when he had a four foot putt to win the play-off on the same hole a few minutes later, he holed that too.
“This was really important to me,” he said. “I had led all last week [in the Benson and Hedges International Open at The De Vere Belfry where he eventually finished second] and all this week. It would have been a real dent to my confidence not to have come out on top today. Last week I thought to myself: Am I back to my old situation? Am I not converting?”
He might have been then, seven days earlier, but he was not in Germany. He had, he hoped, laid to rest a few ghosts.