The date is August 10th, 2008, just two days before my eleventh birthday. The final round of the PGA Championship. Pádraig Harrington fresh off lifting his second Claret Jug a month previous at Royal Birkdale trails Ben Curtis by three shots heading into Sunday.
Expectations are high, after all, it had already been a good day after watching Dublin get absolutely humbled on their own turf yet again in an All-Ireland quarter-final by a rampant Tyrone earlier that afternoon.
At this stage, Harrington was my hero even at such a young age I knew that there was the potential for another showdown between himself and Sergio Garcia.
Again, it was another major championship he had no right to win, but he went and won it anyway with birdies on 12, 13 and 17 before rolling in that iconic par-putt on 18 in true gutsy, determined Harrington fashion. He was sort of Jordan Spieth like back then with his ability to will the ball into the hole.
Having watched the quite ridiculous scenes at Carnoustie in 2007 and what unfolded in Birkdale I knew Harrington never did things the easy way. At various points throughout all three of his major triumphs, it looked like he was going to win, that he had blown it before somehow he clawed it back again.
I still remember shaking like a leaf when Paddy stood over every tee shot that Sunday night as the clock ticked towards midnight, the luxury of staying up into the early hours was never going to be a consolation if he lost the PGA. The comfort of knowing he liked his shots when he stared them down for an eternity with his front teeth bursting through his lips…
Somehow, he won it that night and ascended to world number three, with Sergio’s sour grapes and salty comments still fresh in my mind I have been ticking off the years of major less Harrington seasons and have long accepted that his best chances lie at the Open Championship and the PGA Championship.
Fourteen years on and at 50 years of age, the window for a fourth major does seem to be closing with every passing year but I haven’t given up on one last Harrington crack at one of the big ones and I know he hasn’t either. I’ll dare to dream until it’s no longer possible and Southern Hills might represent a glimmer of hope.
Nothing will ever be as exciting as seeing Paddy in the mix at any tournament let alone a major. I was far too giddy when he ascended to the top of the leaderboard early in the opening round of the Masters last month, far too giddy. It’s the nostalgia really that gets me.
Last year’s PGA Championship set the pulse racing. The eagle on the 2nd, and the chip in on fourteen, Harrington proved he can still compete on a tough golf course in major championships.
It didn’t materialise in the end as he played the last four holes in one-over as opposed to two-under like he would have done in his pomp but it was a top-4 finish in a major on a very difficult golf course and I feel this week represents another good chance for him to have a crack at a long-awaited fourth major.
All I ask of Paddy is that he hangs around for 63 holes, just stay in touch, go into Sunday within five or six and gradually close that gap heading into the final nine holes. You could never rule him out.
Harrington has been playing really well this year. I would take his PGA Tour results with a pinch of salt, he’s not going to perform well when the tournaments are birdie fests. He needs a tough golf course with a bit of wind to act as a bit of a leveller which we will get at Southern Hills.
The 50-year-old has enjoyed a solid season on the Champions Tour even if it hasn’t yielded silverware. A hat trick of second paced finishes including two in his last two starts has the Dubliner primed for the PGA Championship this week.
With an average dig of 299.3 yards off the tee, Paddy leads the Champions Tour in driving distance. He has also been putting well, ranking 7th on the senior circuit while he is also 14th in greens in regulation.
Chipping will be a crucial factor this week and I am willing to brush over his ranking of 32nd in scrambling as I believe he can come into his own under pressure. It seems to be his entire mantra over the last decade or so that he can still deliver on the back nine on the big occasion.
Harrington competing at the business end of majors since lifting his third major championship in 08 has been a rare occurrence, but that’s what makes it so exciting when he does. When I watch Rory in the majors I am nervous, like if I breath too loudly or make a move in the sitting room he might break on the television screen. With Harrington, it’s pure excitement and hope that I can live the nostalgia one last time.
When Paddy tees off alongside Stewart Cink and Jason Dufner at just after 2 pm this afternoon the dream will have started once again.
Harrington’s career has been legendary and a fourth major title would be the icing on top of what is already a pretty delicious cake. If Phil could, why can’t he?
One last dance.
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