Monday, July 21, 2008

The 19th Hole: No Asterisk Needed

Padraig Harrington looked unlikely to start in this week’s Open Championship at Royal Birkdale due to a wrist injury. After winning a warm up event at the Irish PGA Championship, the defending Open Champion was barely able to practice at Birkdale. On the eve of the Championship, his status was still in doubt. In fact, first alternate Heath Slocum was ready to go in his place.

Harrington, though, did not give in to injury and found the strength to defend his championship. Could he have guessed, though, how successful his defense turned out to be? For the second year in a row, Harrington is the champion golfer of the year. He bested Ian Poulter by four shots with a final round of 69 to finish the championship on +3.

This time, Harrington was able to enjoy his walk up the 72nd hole of the championship. After striping his tee shot to the last and then hitting the best approach of the day to the green, Harrington could have five-putted from less than 15 feet and still claim the title. He still only needed two putts to repeat in the Open and become a member of elite company to repeat at this storied championship.

Last year, after hitting into the Burn twice, the Irishman appeared to have surrendered the title to Sergio Garcia. While his eventual playoff victory over Garcia was considered fortunate, he was not considered a fluke champion. Harrington has been a sold and developing golfer for the better part of a decade now. The culmination of all of the hard work on technique and psychology paid off in becoming Ireland’s first major champion since 1947. His place in golf history was solidified and Harrington entered the Irish pantheon with the triumph.

Without Tiger Woods in the field this week, it appeared that many were expected an unheralded champion. The Open generally is a wide open championship because of the dramatic changes in physical conditions over the course of the week. Golf bettors were all over the place in trying to predict the winner. The golf world was expecting a champion that would have to back up this win with another in a field with Woods to validate the win.

Interestingly enough, there did not appear to be much talk about a repeat champion in the Open. Certainly, the wrist injury helped reduce expectations for Harrington. The pressure of defending his title with any measure of success must have been lighter than if Paddy had been healthy. It may have worked out to his benefit as he surged up the leaderboard. The experience of winning last year in such a dramatic and unlikely fashion helped him in the midst of the back nine on Saturday and all day on Sunday. The combination of having been there before but very few expecting a repeat may have been the perfect storm to lead to a repeat champion.

Harrington has now further solidified his place in golf lore. He joins names like Woods, Watson, Palmer, Faldo, and Thompson as repeat winners of the Open. He can now boast being a multiple major winner and the 26th man to win multiple British Opens (the 15th to do so in the modern era). His achievements can never be taken from him and will be viewed in an entirely new light.

The best part of the outcome is that it is almost impossible to view his victory as being skewed. Yes, there was no Tiger Woods to contend with, but 40 mile per hour winds and a large cast of contenders more than made up for his absence. Woods may have even struggled in the conditions that the players had to endure this week. In the end, though, it was Harrington that was best able to handle those conditions and grind his way back to another year with the Claret Jug. He won the Open under two completely unique sets of conditions and it more than validates the talent of Harrington.

In the final analysis, it appears that this Open had more than enough intrigue – something feared to be missing by the ignorant at the start of the week. Those same ignorant people were treated to an opportunity to be re-introduced to the winner, and still champion, Padraig Harrington.

1 comment:

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