One cannot watch Pádraig Harrington in contention at a major without thinking he has absolutely thrown this away at least fourteen times.
Paddy said after his third round he had several options in terms of how he could win this. Well, the option he chose was like the US President in the Simpsons movie, hastily choosing the kamikaze third option. He never makes it easy.
In every sense of the word, Harrington rolled back the years in the final round. He had it won, it looked like he was going to lose it, the guts down the stretch, the clenched teeth, the bug eyes, the fist pumps, it was like the 2000s all over again.
The parallels with his three major wins were striking. In the 2007 Open Championship at Carnoustie it looked like he was on course for victory, before absolutely blowing it only to pull it out of the fire. A habit we have become all too familiar with when it comes to watching Harrington late on Sunday.
At the 2008 Open in Birkdale it was more of the same, thrills and spills and then a few weeks later at the 2008 PGA Championship.
Normally you would switch channels when someone had a six-shot lead with nine holes to play, but this is Pádraig Harrington, he would try his damnedest to win it and lose it all at once.
Watching Harrington in contention will never get old. I remember last year at the PGA Championship when he chipped in on the back nine to close in on Mickelson and Oosthuizen and I started manifesting how he could still win.
When he has a good start early on in tournaments I immediately get excited, only to be let down about an hour later. There was a point when he led the 2022 Masters on Thursday that I thought it was on!
I even recorded the final round of the 2015 Honda Classic when it went to a Monday finish so I could watch it after school and we all know how thrilling that was!
There have been some near-misses watching Paddy late into the night. That pitch shot into the water from the back of the green at Firestone when facing Tiger Woods comes to mind and when he bogeyed the 10th and 11th holes last night those images came flooding back.
Six years is a long time without a win, but the last seven holes showed Harrington still has the nerve, the grit and the know-how to get over the line.
The brace of bogeys to open his back nine were akin to his 18th hole at Carnoustie, his start at Birkdale and his bogey on the 14th at Oakland Hills but his last seven holes mirrored the grit and determination he showed to earn his three major championship titles.
Watching Harrington win majors in the 2000s there have always been the three stages. The charge, the near collapse and the heroic finishes.
In textbook Harrington fashion he rolled in a 20-foot birdie putt on the 15th and gave it the trademark Paddy clenched fist and teeth, evoking memories of his 5-wood to the 17th at Birkdale or his putts on 17 and 18 at Oakland Hills.
His deliberate nature, to put it mildly, adds to the suspense. How often I wish he would ditch the four practice putting strokes and just step up and hit the putt. But you can see how tuned in he is, the eyes do not blink, they do not budge from the target and when the tongue makes an appearance you know Paddy is locked in.
Steve Stricker gave it his all to be fair. All looked lost for the US Ryder Cup captain after a sluggish third round but his charge brought back memories of the Harrington v Garcia major championship rivalry, and Stricker threw in a couple of Sergio-eqsue watery putts on 15 and 16 for good measure!
I really thought the American commentators were a disgrace though. It was almost as if they were willing him to make a mistake, trying to big up this thrilling finish. “It’s heading right” – Harrington is 15-feet away on the green. “This drive is going right” – finds the fairway on 18. “He’s the wrong side of the ridge, going to be a nervy two-putt” – finds the heart of the 18th green knowing he only needs a two-putt par.
If ever there was a time for Ewen Murray to summarise the situation acknowledging Harrington’s intelligent play to the green and playing the 72nd hole perfectly under pressure, that was it.
I am absolutely delighted for Paddy and I have had a feeling a win wasn’t far away for him. He has risen from 304th in the Official World Golf Rankings in 2020 to 136th just a few weeks ago. His performances in the desert on the DP World Tour were strong and I still believe if he plied his trade in Europe more, he would have more chances to win, but the floodgates might open for him on the Champions Tour now.
While he put on a brave face, it has been a tough nine months for him, he took a lot of flack for the Ryder Cup loss and to get one back on Stricker was an added bonus last night.
The question still remains, will he put ladybirds in the trophy? I guess we’ll find out when he arrives at Mount Juliet.
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