Friday, 19 March 2010

Padraig Harrington was delighted to regain possession of a "shinier" Claret Jug after winning The Open Championship in superb style on a windswept final day at Royal Birkdale.

Harrington carded a closing round of 69 for a three over total of 283, finishing four shots clear of Ryder Cup team-mate Ian Poulter to become the first European player to successfully defend the title since James Braid in 1906.

The 36 year old Irishman was doubtful before the start with an injury to his right wrist but put the result beyond doubt with birdies on the 13th and 15th and an eagle from just four feet on the 17th to seal a memorable triumph.

"It's a lot shinier than I remember," joked Harrington, who only handed it back to the Royal and Ancient Club on Tuesday.

"They obviously clean it up nicely. I had a great year as Open Champion, so much so I didn't want to give it back. I'd like to put it right back where it was last year. I really tried not to think about the consequences of winning today but I did think it would be nice to have the trophy back on the breakfast table again.

"It's important that you go on and win a second Major. Very few people have won two Majors or back-to-back Majors. I was always trying to play that down but winning a second sets you apart. It's a new level and there's less people in that club."

Harrington injured his wrist on Saturday and rated his prospects of completing the tournament at just 50-50, but felt the problem ended up working to his advantage.

"In hindsight the fact that I didn't play three practice rounds meant I was fresh for the battle ahead. It took a bit of stress and pressure off me. It was a good distraction. Sometimes you need that.

"I knew my game was there but maybe this week I made the right decision at the right time and got the right break at the right time.

"On Wednesday I genuinely felt there was a big issue with playing. On Wednesday evening I spent time with Bob Rotella (sports psychologist) talking about playing if it was painful.

"We decided you can play through the pain but once I hit a couple of shots out of the rough it gave me more and more confidence."

Harrington's victory last year came despite a double bogey on the 72nd hole which would have cost him the title but for Sergio Garcia later bogeying the same hole.

And he admitted winning in such style this time around gave him enormous satisfaction.

"When you win by a few shots with a good last round there is a definite satisfaction," he added.

"Last year was thrilling and I was on top of the world when I won, but this will give me more confidence."

The €1,106,617 first prize secures Harrington's place in The Ryder Cup in September and takes him from 14th to a career-high third in the World Rankings.

"It clears up a lot for September, that had been on my mind too," he added. "I got to sixth in the world before and wasn't comfortable there.

"I'm more comfortable at third than I was at sixth. I have improved as a player and continue to improve."

Poulter, who has boosted his chances of making Nick Faldo's Eurpeaan Ryder Cup Team for Kentucky in September, paid tribute to the support he received.

"It was a great buzz round the whole back nine. I don't think I've enjoyed a week as I have this week," added Poulter, a seven-time winner on The European Tour.

"It is on home soil and the crowd have been awesome, driving me on. To start holing putts on the back nine and to hear everyone screaming and shouting and driving you on is a massive adrenaline rush."

Having signed his card Poulter went to the practice ground to hit a few shots just in case there was a play-off but once he saw Harrington, two ahead at that point, nail his approach to the 17th he knew his chance had gone.

"I was watching from the practice pool cabin when Padraig did that. It could all still have gone wrong but he's hit a five wood perfectly to five feet," added Poulter, who paid tribute to Harrington's achievement in becoming only the sixth man since the Second World War to retain his title.

"He's gone out there and done his stuff on the back nine. He's played incredibly.

"It is a hell of a performance. Back-to-back Opens haven't been done that often."

Greg Norman, who finished in joint third place, was the story all weekend. The 53 year old’s feat in leading the event until the last nine holes will go down in history, but he did not want to deflect any praise from the Champion after finishing nine over par.

"I'm obviously disappointed," said Norman. "That may be an understatement.

"I got off to a pretty good start even though I was three over after three.

"I had a couple of lip-outs on some putts and if that hadn't have happened it might have been a different story but that's the way it is. But I can walk away with my head held high.

"The toughest thing is shooting 77," he joked. "The wind moved around and blew more awkwardly for us, but it didn't feel like a high score today.

"Padraig played brilliantly. He performed beautifully and like a true champion. He looked like he was trying to throw it away around seven and eight but made a good putt on ten for par which got him back on track.

"The way he finished was like a true Champion."

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