European Ryder Cup Captain, Padraig Harrington had travelled from Ireland via New York into nearby Fort Lauderdale Airport ahead of making his way to this week’s Honda Classic at Palm Beach Gardens.
The Honda Classic is one of three events the proud Irishman has won twice in a 31-tournament winning career.
He arrived at PGA National behind the wheel of his tournament courtesy car accompanied by wife, Caroline and long-time caddy, Ronan Flood.
After unloading the vehicle of his golf equipment, Harrington chose himself to park the vehicle in the players’ car park before walking back to the PGA National clubhouse.
And one of the very first players Harrington bumped into as he sought to join his wife in the players’ lounge was Norwegian sensation, Viktor Hovland who had just ended a practice round.
Three days earlier, Hovland captured a maiden PGA Tour title in winning the Puerto Rico Open in just his 17th Tour event, quicker than it took both Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy to achieve the same feat.
Woods contested 19 PGA Tour events since making his debut as an amateur at the 1992 Los Angeles Open before capturing a maiden victory as a rookie pro at the 1996 Las Vegas Open whereas McIlroy was competing in his 18th PGA Tour event when he shot a course record last day 62 to win his maiden Tour victory at the 2011 Quail Hollow Championship.
Hovland’s victory in far off Puerto Rico has been easily the biggest male sports story in the Norwegian media since the 1994 Winter Olympics when the country won more medals than any other.
For so many years, it was Suzann Pettersen dominating the golf news in capturing two women’s majors along with 20 other victories and last September being pivotal in helping steer Europe to a dramatic victory in the Solheim Cup.
Hovland’s triumph not only saw him jump from 102nd to 60th on the World Rankings, the Oslo golfer also leap-frogged from 55th to 20 on the European Ryder Cup ‘World’ points table, and is just 11 spots shy of Graeme McDowell who holds down the fifth and last automatic qualifying spot on the ‘World’ points table.
Harrington is no stranger to Hovland’s ability having been grouped with the ultra-talented Norwegian for the opening two rounds of last September’s BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.
“It feels like he belongs which is the biggest key to a young rookie coming out on Tour,” Harrington said at the time on the course in leafy Surrey.
Fast forward five months and Harrington was clearly delighted to shake the hand of the 22-year old and the PGA Tour’s newest champion.
“I was very happy for Viktor and I said that to him meeting-up with him a few minutes ago in the clubhouse,” said Harrington.
“His Puerto Rico victory was kind of expected of him but then it’s nice to see him win in the manner he did and clearly Viktor is more on the Ryder Cup radar following his win on Sunday.
“What he managed to achieve is what most of us only thought he would do so it does not come as surprise.
“What is a surprise, and I was not aware, is that he’s won a first PGA Tour event in fewer tournaments than both Tiger and Rory so that is impressive.
“So, as Europe’s Captain I am delighted for Viktor and let’s say he’s now more on my team radar.”
And Hovland, who is also competing in this week’s Honda Classic, spoke of his meeting with Harrington.
“He said congrats, so it was great, and hopefully I can just keep playing well and kind of make more of my mark that maybe I have a chance to be on the team,” he said.
“I haven’t been looking at the Ryder Cup as something that I want to play in for a really long time, and it’s certainly, I would say, pretty much the pinnacle of a golfing career.”
Joining Harrington this week is fellow Open Champion, Shane Lowry.
Unlike Harrington, Lowry needed to travel just five minutes from his new rented dwelling for the next six months on the BallenIsles estate to the players car park at PGA National.
BallenIsles boasts three championship golf courses though on Monday, Lowry was at the ultra-exclusive Bears Club resort, home to fellow Irishman Rory McIlroy.
MEANTIME …. Sources close to Graeme McDowell reveal he had been struck drown with stomach illness during last week’s WGC – Mexico Championship which would explain for his poor showing.
GMac uncharacteristically struggled, failing to break 72 over the four days and finishing well near the bottom of the board.
IRISH TEE TIMES (Irish time) …..
Padraig Harrington – 1.15pm
Shane Lowry – 5.25pm