Friday, 19 March 2010

After a week of celebrations, it’s back to business for Open Champion Padraig Harrington as he heads to Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio, for the World Golf Championships – Bridgestone Invitational, his first event since his win at Carnoustie.

Harrington spent last week parading the Claret Jug amid a whirl of parties, receptions, presentations and interviews - from his home club of Stackstown in Dublin where he presented the prizes to the club’s juniors, to the Government Buildings in Dublin where Ireland's Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has paid tribute to Harrington’s "skill, courage and nerve" at an official reception.

But this week it is time to refocus on 72 hole stroke play as The European Tour Number One leads a 36 strong European Tour contingent to the final WGC event of the year.

“I’ll probably be ready for Akron, although it will be a case of going with the flow,” said Harrington last week. “To be honest, I’m hoping for a honeymoon effect (after The Open win). I won’t be out to prove anything.”

One of the many calls of congratulations Harrington has received over the past week came from 2005 US Open Champion Michael Campbell, one of his closest friends on Tour. After the New Zealander won at Pinehurst, he admitted he found it difficult to lift himself for many months afterwards. In their conversation, he advised Harrington: “You mustn’t feel this is the end of the journey.” Harrington is determined not to let that happen.

“I already know there is more to be done,” he said. “I’m a professional golfer. How would I feel if I won a Major and failed to perform after that? I want to win more tournaments and to play good golf.”

Harrington’s play-off victory over Spain’s Sergio Garcia at Carnoustie elevated the Irishman back to the top of The European Tour Order of Merit, which he won last year, and as he sets his sights on retaining the Harry Vardon Trophy, he can consolidate his position this week at Akron where the winner will take home US$1,350,000 of the US$8 million prize fund on offer.

Garcia also returns to the fray along with Argentina’s Andres Romero, third at Carnoustie and winner of his first European Tour title last weekend at The Deutsche Bank Players’ Championship of Europe, who made a late charge to qualify having climbed from 114th in the Official World Golf Rankings into the top 30 with his outstanding performances over the last two weeks.

Six European Tour Members are making their WGC debut – Gregory Havret of France, José  Manuel Lara of Spain, Romero, South African Richard Sterne, England’s Graeme Storm and Liang Wen-chong of China.

Henrik Stenson could regain top position on The European Tour Order of Merit as the Swede looks to add the WGC – Bridgestone Invitational title to his WGC – Accenture Match Play title to become only the third multiple winner of a WGC event after Darren Clarke and Tiger Woods.

All with face the challenge of wresting the title from the firm grip of World Number One, Woods, the winner at Firestone Country Club in each of the last two years and five times in total in the last seven at Firestone. His play-off victory over fellow American Stewart Cink last year was his 11th individual success in the WGC events and he has subsequently added a 12th with victory in the 2006 WGC – American Express Championship and 13th in this year’s WGC - CA Championship in March. Woods has won a staggering US$6,602,500 in eight starts at the WGC - Bridgestone Invitational, an average of US$824,312.50 per start at the event.

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