Harrington too good at Royal Birkdale
BY Bruce Young | European PGA Tour | 2008 British Open | Round Four | 21 Jul 2008
Padraig Harrington’s brilliant final round of 69 has given him his second consecutive Open Championship, this time by four shots over England’s Ian Poulter and by six over Henrik Stenson and third round leader, Greg Norman.
Harrington’s strong finishing stretch, during which he played the last six holes in an almost incomprehensible four under par, put paid to several players who were still in contention for the title until that point. Every shot that Harrington hit throughout the four days was important to the final result but there seems little doubt that Harrington will go to bed tonight dreaming about the magnificent five wood he hit to the par five 17th.
After finding the fairway with a three wood from the tee, Harrington’s second flirted with the fairway trap short of the green but once it had cleared that obstacle it bounded forward and fed its way towards the hole. The subsequent 4 foot putt was holed and Harrington’s two shot lead over Ian Poulter had become four and the title was effectively his.
Once again the Royal Birkdale layout was buffeted by strong winds on day four although not to the extent it had been in round three when so many chances were blown away by winds that gusted to 50 mph. It was clear from early in the day that the final round would be kinder to the early starters, many of whom were playing amongst the early groups due to the battering they had suffered the previous day. Much of the early scoring indicated that things would be better for all on day four but by the time the latter groups were on the golf course the strong winds had strengthened and this would once again be a battle of attrition.
Amongst the leaders heading into the final day, Harrington would make the best start. He had joined Norman in the lead after just two holes and by the time he reached the 7th tee his lead was by two over the Australian. There was no room for complacency on this layout or in these conditions however, the defending champion dropping three shots before the turn and the 54 hole leader, Norman, was back in the lead.
They were back on level pegging when Norman bogeyed the 10th but ahead on the golf course, England’s Ian Poulter was continuing a run of pars and the occasional birdie which had started after two bogies in the first three holes had threatened to ruin his chances.
When Norman lipped out for par from 7 feet at the 12th and Poulter had birdied the 16th, Harrington and Poulter shared the lead at 7 over one ahead of Norman. Poulter was playing over an hour ahead of the final pair and after finding the green with his second at the par five 17th, it appeared he might just grab the outright lead if he could two putt for birdie. His first putt was six feet short and when he missed the birdie putt he had not only blown a birdie opportunity but perhaps a chance at victory.
Poulter made a great par save at the last from short and right of the green to finish at 7 over but it would be all in vein as Harrington was about to start his remarkable run that would sweep him to victory. After a five iron and follow up 14 foot putt for birdie at the 13th, Harrington found the green at the 15th and two putted for birdie, two putted for par at the 16th, followed with the stunning eagle at the 17th and then, with a four shot lead, had the luxury of enjoying the moment at the 18th. Such had not been the case twelve months ago when he so nearly blew his chances at the 72nd hole before winning in a playoff at Carnoustie.
A fine tee shot at the 18th was followed by a second which never left the flag and finished 14 feet past. After Norman bogeyed the last to fall into a share of third with Henrik Stenson, the stage was left to Harrington who two putted for par and the four shot win.
For Harrington, who had entered the week under an injury cloud, the first person amongst his support group he thanked in his victory speech was the man who attended to the wrist injury he had suffered last week when winning the Irish PGA Championship.
Harrington had eased in pre tournament favouritism as a result of the injury and his opening round of 74 in the slightly easier afternoon conditions on day one gave little reason to think it was not still a concern. He bounced back with a second round 68, stayed in touch during yesterday’s carnage with a round of 72 and the rest is now history.
It might just be that the Irish PGA Championship will secure an even stronger field in 2009 given the form line it has revealed with Harrington having won in each of the last two years and gone on to win the Open the following week.
Poulter recorded his ever finish in a major and just his second top ten but in the end he was no match for the winner.
Norman might well have let slip another chance for a major championship but he could well look at this week as a half full rather than half empty glass. His amazing display of high quality golf on such a limited preparation reflects the great athlete he is. He will be bitterly disappointed, of that there is little doubt, but he provided a spark for us all and a reminder of a golfer from yesteryear still able to compete. Many players in their forties and fifties will take heart from Norman’s best finish in a major since his third place at the Masters as a 44 year old in 1999.
Norman provided further reason for pride by his fellow Australians by the manner in which he handled his defeat, and his sportsmanlike attitude in his final round, a point Harrington was quick to make in his acceptance speech.
Robert Allenby was the second best of the Australasians, equalling his best finish in a major and his best in an Open Championship when 7th, Adam Scott was 16th, Richard Green and Nick O’Hern were 32nd, Michael Campbell and Stuart Appleby were 51st and Craig Parry and Brendan Jones 70th.
The European Tour will now move to Moscow for the Russian Open.