Sunday, 22 July 2007

Ireland enjoyed the mother of all parties when Europe won The Ryder Cup at The K Club last September, but another one will surely resonate around the Emerald Isle for many days to come now after the nation’s favourite son, Padraig Harrington, won The 136th Open Championship at Carnoustie.

Harrington’s victory, his first Major Championship success in his 37th attempt, saw him become the first European born player to win The Open Championship since Scotland’s Paul Lawrie triumphed at Carnoustie in 1999 and only the second Irishman in history to lift the Claret Jug following Fred Daly’s triumph at Royal Liverpool in 1947.

The 35 year old Dubliner picked up the first prize of €1,106,617 (£750,000) to move top of The European Tour Order of Merit – where he ended last season – and up to sixth on the Official World Golf Ranking, his highest ever placement.

He also ensured that the run of first time Major winners in 2007 continued, his success following that of Zach Johnson at the Masters Tournament in April and Angel Cabrera in the US Open Championship in June.

But the main statistic he will be interested in is the one which states that he is, at long last, a Major Champion himself, having ended his European Ryder Cup colleague Sergio Garcia’s hopes of winning his first Major title in a dramatic four-hole play-off.

“I think it will take a long time to settle in what I have achieved today,” he said. “The emotion of it, I couldn’t believe it. I know it was only a short putt to win in the end but as it was rolling into the middle of the hole I’m thinking, I’m the Open Champion! It was amazing, incredible to see that putt drop.”
“Always my goal was to win more than one Major and if I crossed the threshold and won one, as I have done now, I always want to win more. I’m going to celebrate like it’s the pinnacle of my career but I’ve got other goals to move on with now. I’m certainly going to enjoy this one though now, and for the foreseeable future. Forever actually.”

“I hope this has a positive aspect for European golf. Miguel Angel Jimenez came to me on the first play-off hole and said, ‘The good thing is that we now have a European winner whatever happens.’ I do very much believe in that side of things and hopefully it will inspire the other players.”

The duo both ended regulation play on seven under par 277 after an afternoon’s golf which crackled with an excitement and drama that lit up the grey afternoon skies.

After double bogeying the 72nd hole, Harrington could have been forgiven for entering the play-off on a downer but nothing could have been further from the truth as the Irishman flew from the traps. Indeed, as he reflected on the error, he made sure he turned it into a positive as the play-off began.

“I never let myself feel like I’d lost the Open Championship as I sat watching Sergio finishing up – I never let myself think I had just thrown away the Open on the 18th,” he admitted.

“I sat there in that hut and I was as disciplined as I could be with my focus not to brood and to think about what ifs and buts or what if I’d done this or that. I never let it cross my mind that I’d just thrown away the Open. I kept myself very level all the way through and I think that helped.”

Just how much it helped was illustrated as the play-off began. A superb second shot to the first hole found him ten feet from the cup from where he holed for a birdie three, an advantage which was immediately doubled when Garcia’s approach found the greenside bunker on his way to a bogey five.

Garcia could have immediately redressed the balance at the second extra hole, the 248th 16th but he could only look on in anguish as his superbly struck tee shot hit the bottom of the pin before spinning 20 feet away.

A par three was the best the Spaniard could do which matched Harrington’s effort and when the duo both parred the third extra hole – the 461 yard 17th – the Irishman stood on the 18th tee with his two shot lead intact.

Understandably, with memories of his double bogey six an hour earlier still fresh in his mind, he played the hole cautiously, laying up in front of the green in two before finding the putting surface safely.

Garcia knew he had to go for it but when his drive found the rough, it looked a forlorn task. However the brave Spaniard smashed his second onto the green some 20 feet from the pin.

With Harrington having missed his par effort and leaving a three footer for bogey five, Garcia knew if he could hole from 20 feet for an unlikely birdie three, he would force the play-off into sudden-death, but he could not do it, his putt slipping past the cup – Harrington then tapping in for victory.

Understandably disappointed, Garcia pointed to the fact that Lady Luck does not seem to court him at the crucial moments, pointing to events at the 16th as a prime example.

“It is funny how some guys hit the pin and go in or hit the pin and go to a foot away. Mine hits the pin and goes 20 feet away,” he said. “And you know what the saddest part is about it, it’s not the first time unfortunately.

“I was definitely a little bit nervous at the beginning and it’s understandable. If you’re trying to win an Open Championship and you’re leading and you’re not nervous, then you must be dead.

“I’m disappointed but I’m fine and the week is over. Padraig played well today and well enough to win. So I have just to get better I guess. There’s nothing else I can really think about at the moment.”


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