With the Horizon Irish Open set to get underway in a few day’s time at the K Club, we’re counting down our top-10 from years gone by…..
3. Harrington ends 25 years of hurt at Adare Manor – 2007
Given the wealth of talent that Ireland produced in the latter part of the 20th century, few could’ve predicted that John O’Leary’s success in ’82 would be the last time an Irishman would sink the winning putt an Irish Open for a quarter of a century.
In fact, an Irishman would sink the vital putt (or have it conceded) three times in the Ryder Cup before one would get their hands on the trophy at our home open. Philip Walton came close at Portmarnock in 1989 but lost in a playoff to Ian Woosnam, Des Smyth was tied second behind Woosie the year prior but was seven adrift, and Padraig Harrington himself was twice a runner up in the noughties, trailing Colin Montgomerie by five and Brett Rumford by four in 2001 and 2004 respectively.
The win, when it finally came, was a big weight off the shoulders and, as ever, Harrington’s win didn’t come easy. Adare Manor proved a severe test for the pros, and Harrington, Bradley Dredge and Simon Wakefield were the only three players to end the week in red figures.
Having taken a three-stroke lead over Dredge into the final round, a playoff would be required to see the ever-popular Dubliner get over the line and end what O’Leary had described as “a pain in the neck to those who came after me.”
O’Leary sent a message to Harrington before the off, via his coach Bob Torrance, in which he said: “just do it. You’re Europe’s number one.”
When Harrington produced a scintillating final-round burst from the seventh, going birdie-birdie-eagle, he was living up to his European Number One status and position as World Number 12. The eagle, from seven-feet, rounded off the charge and saw him take a four-stroke lead at the turn.
But then the pressure of trying to end Ireland’s barren run started to tell in a flurry of loose shots as playing-partner Dredge reduced the margin by chipping in at the 14th and holing a 30-footer on the 15th to close to within one.
In the end, it may not have been pretty, but Harrington held his nerve in the playoff and O’Leary was on hand to congratulate him on the 18th green and hand over both the trophy and the metaphorical baton, ending the 25-year wait for the next home winner.
An emotional Harrington, admitting to nerves at the end, said: “I feel sorry for Bradley because he really came at me. I felt the pressure. It was probably the most nervous I’ve been for many a tournament.
“I’ve always said that after the four Majors this is the next event I’ve wanted to win. The crowd was fantastic. Even when I saved for bogey they cheered and the applause definitely gave me a boost.”
Two months later, Harrington had added a Claret Jug to the Irish Open trophy and his Irish Open win sparked off a 15-month stretch where he’d win three majors and climb to a career-high third in the world rankings.
One could easily argue that without the victory on home soil the others may not have followed.