Friday, 19 March 2010

It took 31 Majors to break the sequence, but now 30 European-born players and another 18 European Tour Members from all corners of the globe will attempt to follow Ireland’s Padraig Harrington onto the winner’s podium at a Major Championship.

Harrington produced the performance of his career to capture The 136th Open Championship at Carnoustie. Just 18 days later, the Dubliner tees up in the 89th US PGA Championship at Southern Hills Country Club, Tulsa, Oklahoma, knowing that life will never be the same again.

He is confident that his momentous achievement in defeating Spain’s Sergio Garcia in a four hole play-off to lift the Claret Jug will act as the inspiration to his fellow Tour Members.

Harrington enjoys the privilege of teeing off at 1.10pm local time on Thursday in the company of this season’s other Major Champions – Masters winner Zach Johnson of the United States and US Open Champion Angel Cabrera of Argentina.

“It’s great that European Tour Members hold both Open titles simultaneously,” said Harrington, whose return to competitive action in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational ended in a respectable share of 14th place at Firestone Country Club in Akron.

“I am sure that the guys who play with me regularly on The European Tour, and know my game, will feel they can go out and do the same thing. The last couple of weeks have been a bit of a blur but I am enjoying it and letting everything sink in slowly.

“My preparation for the Bridgestone Invitational wasn’t very good in that I barely hit a shot before getting to Akron, and even then I spent the first two days doing the round of media interviews and so on. However there is no question that getting four rounds under my belt over such a demanding course as Firestone has been the ideal preparation for the final Major of the year.

“I was determined to put in a decent week and I feel I did that. Now it’s the PGA and we’ve got to get going for that.”

Cabrera, who made his Major breakthrough in the US Open at Oakmont Country Club, has also acted as a role model for many European Tour Members, not least his young compatriot, Andres Romero, who came so close at Carnoustie before winning The Deutsche Bank Players’ Championship of Europe.

Romero maintained that sensational run of form by finishing tied sixth in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational on Sunday, while Cabrera – suffering from a heavy cold – could only manage a share of 69th.

However Cabrera’s comments corresponded with those of Harrington, both men having met the Presidents and Prime Ministers of their respective countries. He said: “It’s been a crazy couple of months and sometimes I haven’t been ready in terms of my game. Overall it’s been positive reaction and I’ve spent a lot of time with the fans and the media in Argentina.”

Romero has grasped onto Cabrera’s coat tails and enjoyed the ride over the past three weeks towards the top 20 in the world. The unassuming Argentine, who was paired with Tiger Woods for the first two rounds in Akron, admitted he has the desire to follow in his countryman’s footsteps.

“Angel definitely inspired me,” he said. “It was great to see him win the US Open. I was in an airport on my way to Munich and it opened my eyes to the possibilities out there. What he did helped me in The Open Championship and also in Germany.”

If another European is to emulate Harrington, the form horse is unquestionably England’s Justin Rose. Tied fifth in the Masters Tournament, tied tenth in the US Open and tied 12th in The Open at Carnoustie, Rose warmed up for steamy Southern Hills by finishing runner-up alongside Rory Sabbatini to Woods at Firestone on Sunday.

“I’ve not managed to get in a pre-practice round at Southern Hills,” said Rose. “I did it for the Masters, US Open and The Open, but the schedule gets more and more hectic and it’s hard to find that gap.

“I will play Tuesday and Wednesday after taking Monday off and see how things go. I think the reason I played well in the Majors this year is because I prepared hard for them and it’s worked out well.”

Woods, who completed a second hat-trick of WGC-Bridgestone Invitational titles (three in a row from 1999 and another three from 2005), is heading to Tulsa with the aim of avoiding a ‘Major-less’ 2007, a rarity for the World Number One who has accumulated 12 Major titles to his name by the age of 31.

South Africa’s Retief Goosen returns to the scene of his Major Championship breakthrough in 2001, when he beat American Mark Brooks in an 18 hole play-off for the first of his two US Open titles.

Eight European Tour Members will be making the debuts in the US PGA Championship, namely Austria’s Markus Brier, England’s Simon Dyson, France’s Gregory Havret, China’s Weng-chong Liang, India’s Jyoti Randhawa and Jeev Milkha Singh, England’s Graeme Storm and South Africa’s Richard Sterne.

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