Harrington fills Tiger void with PGA win

August 11, 2008 8:46:06 AM PDT
Everyone wondered who would fill the void with Tiger Woods recuperating and out of the last two majors.The answer is pretty clear.

Padraig Harrington overcame a three-shot deficit, coolly rolling in a 10-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole and 15-footer for par on 18, to pull away from Sergio Garcia and Ben Curtis and win the PGA Championship on Sunday.

In a fitting follow to winning his second straight British Open three weeks ago, the Irishman became only the fourth player - and first European - to win the claret jug and the Wanamaker Trophy in the same year. He also became the first European to win the PGA Championship since Tommy Armour of Scotland in 1930.

"I really do like the fact that no other European has won (those) two majors consecutively," Harrington said after the stirring finish. "Because I obviously hold a lot of European players that I grew up watching in high esteem. To believe that I achieved something that they hadn't is very special."

How he did it was very special as well.

He started Sunday's final round - part of a marathon day because the third round was pushed back by rain - three shots behind Curtis. He was in third place starting the back nine and was a shot behind Garcia with three holes to play.

But just as he had in winning his second straight British Open last month at Royal Birkdale, he shot a 32 on the back nine. While Curtis and Garcia, still stuck with the mantle of "best player in the world without a major," never hit a shot to separate themselves down the stretch, Harrington was solid.

He nailed a 12-foot putt for par on the 16th to pull even with Garcia and Curtis, then took the lead with the birdie on the par-3 17th. A moment later, Garcia was faced with a 6-footer to tie him, but missed it.

On the closing hole, which gave up only one birdie all day and that was on a shot from the fairway by Steve Flesch, Harrington had one more bit of magic left in his putter. He barely escaped a fairway bunker, then made a stellar shot from deep rough to get on the green. He made the 15-footer to close out Garcia and clinch a two-shot victory.

"I know I love the idea of the back nine of a major of Sunday," Harrington said. "I love it so much I'm actually disappointed I'm (eight) months away from the next major."

So is Woods, who is back in Florida recuperating from knee surgery that cost him the rest of the season after he won the U.S. Open in dramatic fashion in June. Woods wasn't anywhere close to Oakland Hills, but it's likely he's well aware that Harrington is challenging his status as the man to beat coming down the stretch of a major.

That's not the case with Garcia, who always seems snakebit when in the thick of a major championship. He was tied for the lead with Curtis when he hit an approach to the 15th green that hit the pin, slid down the shaft, slammed into the bottom of the hole - and then ricocheted 10 feet away. Two putts later, he had a par instead of something truly memorable on the way to a major victory.

"There's guys that get a little bit fortunate. They get in contention in a major and manage to get things going their way, either because they play well or because somebody else comes back," said Garcia, who is now 0-for-38 in majors. "Unfortunately, it hasn't happened to me."

Almost as impressive as the way Harrington played in the final few holes was that he came into the weekend saying he was tired and out of sync. Yet he played 27 grueling holes Sunday and finished with consecutive 66s.

He stood alone at 3-under 277. Garcia (68) and Curtis (71), who led by three shots after birdieing the first hole, shared second at 279. Camilo Villegas, who closed out rounds of 67 and 68 on Sunday, shared fourth place with Henrik Stenson (72) at 281.

Curtis said there were times that he heard the roars from the head-to-head battle ahead of him between playing partners Garcia and Harrington and lost his train of thought.

"I struggled in the middle of the round," he said. "(The fans) deserted me then, those guys were having such a good battle."

Curtis could console himself with the fact that he's already got a major (the 2003 British Open) and that his finish earned him his first berth on a U.S. Ryder Cup team, next month at Valhalla, outside Louisville, Ky.

Tiger won't be there. But Harrington will, playing for the European side.

"It's a long way to catch Tiger at the top," Harrington said.

But two majors, with or without the best player in the world, is a pretty good place to start.


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