Padraig Harrington broke a 78-year European jinx on Sunday night as he won the US PGA Championship at Oakland Hills Country Club, winning back-to-back Majors in the process after a nerve-wracking duel with Sergio Garcia.
Harrington became the first European since Scotland’s Tommy Armour in 1930 to win the year’s final Major and the first man since Tiger Woods in 2006 to record consecutive Major wins.
It also delivered a third Major in six attempts for the Irishman although it was not without a terrific battle with Garcia and the American 54-hole leader Ben Curtis.
Curtis, the 2003 Open Champion, had fought off the European challenge of Garcia, Harrington and Sweden’s Henrik Stenson over the opening holes, having gone into the rain-delayed fourth round with a one-shot lead over the Swede and fellow American JB Holmes with a third round, two under par 68 just 140 minutes previously.
Playing in three-man groups and with the back markers starting on the tenth tee to try and get back on schedule after losing half the day’s play to rain on Saturday, Curtis got off to a great start with an opening birdie.
Holmes’s chances imploded at the first after finding trees with his driver. He tried to punch the ball out from under a low-branched pine, only to advance it a couple of yards and take a penalty drop. The 36-hole leader took a triple bogey seven from which he could not recover.
Curtis was four under after six, only to unravel with three bogeys around the turn at the eighth, ninth and 11th.
Garcia and Harrington, who had completed a third round 66 in the morning to the Spaniard’s 69, were playing together, starting at one over par, with Garcia the more impressive over the opening holes.
The Spaniard eagled the par five second and then birdied the sixth to move to three under after six with Curtis having played five alongside Stenson, who had birdied the second to move to one under.
Harrington, who had bogeyed the fifth, got back to level par with a birdie at six but he really came alive as the back nine got under away, with birdies at the tenth, 12th and 13th, to draw level with Garcia at three under while Stenson bogeyed the 12th to go to level par.
Both co-leaders drove wide right at the 14th with Harrington getting the better lie outside the ropes than his rival who found deeper rough inside. Garcia salvaged par while the Irishman’s second shot rifled over the hole and out the back of the green. From there he bogeyed to cede the lead back to Garcia.
The matchplay feel to their duel was underlined at the 15th as Garcia sent a six iron second shot that bounced in and out of the hole from 172 yards to around ten feet from the hole while Harrington set his 147 yard approach wide of the hole and saw it roll to the same distance on the other side.
They matched each other with their putts, too, Harrington’s birdie putt racing outside the cup and Garcia’s trickling inside as both made par.
Behind them, though, Curtis was showing he was not out of it with a birdie at the 14th to join Garcia at three under with Harrington a shot back.
The drama intensified at 16 when Garcia found water with his second shot, shooting for the green saw his ball bounce off the putting surface and into the lake. He got a drop from around 50 yards and this time found the green.
Harrington reached a greenside bunker with his second shot and his sand wedge did not go to plan as it rolled some 25 feet past the hole but he regrouped in style to sink the putt and with Garcia making bogey with an equally difficult putt, the rivals found themselves in a three-way lead with Curtis at two under with two to play.
Curtis had seen his birdie putt at 15 hit a spike mark and bobble right and recovered from a wayward drive off 16 wide to stay in touch with a par at two under.
His tee shot at 17 looked good but bounced out the back of the green and his chip back rolled a long way past the hole. His putt back missed by inches and he tapped in for bogey to slip to one under.
Garcia and Harrington were battling like gladiators. Both sent in laser-like five irons off the tee to the 17th green, from which the Irishman gained the upper hand, nervelessly securing a birdie and then seeing his rival’s putt lip out.
So Harrington teed off on 18, the most difficult hole of the week as the outright leader of the championship for the first time in 72 holes at Oakland Hills.
His tee shot, though, handed the momentum to Garcia as he found a fairway bunker to the right but the Spaniard followed suit, driving right also and into the rough close by.
Facing a steep upward lie Harrington hit a fat second shot out of the bunker into rightside rough and he gave himself a putt for par with a superb seven iron onto the middle of the green.
Garcia had found a greenside bunker with his second shot and after returning from a bathroom break his bunker shot left him a tricky 10 feet putt for par.
Harrington putted first, downhill from 15 feet and pumped his fist as it fell into the cup for remarkable par four.
Garcia, unable to catch the Irishman, saw his shorter putt roll outside the hole and another Major elude him.
Harrington retired to the scorer’s room to record his second consecutive 66, finishing at three under par as Curtis teed off the 18th needing an eagle two on the final hole.
That was one miracle too many and the man who claimed he was out of steam after the second round was on top of the world.