Harrington claims second Open title in style

Updated: 25 July 2008 09:36 IST

Padraig Harrington defied strong gusting winds to complete a successful British Open title defence with a commanding four-shot victory on Sunday.

Harrington claims second Open title in style

Southport, England:

Padraig Harrington enjoys few moments more than the walk down 18th fairway of a century-old links course, especially with a four-shot lead in the British Open and the engraver putting the final touches on the oldest trophy in golf.

He stopped Sunday to share the moment with Greg Norman, who knows this path all too well.

Celebration for one, sympathy for the other.

"I did say to him coming down 18 that I was sorry it wasn't his story that was going to be told," Harrington said. "I did feel that, but I wanted to win myself. In this game, you have to take your chances when you get them."

Harrington seized his opportunity by smashing a pair of fairway metals into the par 5s that carried him to a 32 on the back nine of blustery Royal Birkdale and made him Europe's first player in more than a century to win the British Open two years in a row.

"Obviously, winning a major puts you in a special club," Harrington said after closing with a 1-under 69 to win by four shots over Ian Poulter. "Winning two of them puts you in a new club altogether."

The 53-year-old Norman got a chance no one saw coming.

Still on his honeymoon with tennis great Chris Evert and only a part-time golfer with no expectations, the Shark found himself with a two-shot lead going into the final round and still one shot ahead with nine holes to play.

It ended like so many other majors for Norman _ a quick succession of bogeys, the clutch shots belonging to someone else. He made eight bogeys in gusts that reached 40 mph (64 kph), closed with a 77 and tied for third.

"Where does it rank in those? Probably not as high as some of the other ones," Norman said of the six other times he lost a 54-hole lead in a major. "Quite honestly, I'm sure I surprised a lot of people."

So did Harrington.

The 36-year-old Irishman injured his right wrist eight days ago, and it was so sore that he could only practice for nine holes on Tuesday and for three swings on the eve of his title defense.

He gave himself a 75 percent chance of starting, 50 percent of finishing.

Turns out that wrist was strong enough to hit all the right shots.

"It was a great distraction for me," Harrington said. "It took a lot of pressure off me. It took a lot of stress off me. The fact that I didn't play three practice rounds like normal for a major was a big bonus. I was very fresh going into the weekend, and this 36 holes was a real battle."

Harrington first had to take the lead from Norman, which he did on the par-3 12th when Norman missed a 10-foot par putt. Then came a late charge from Poulter, who made a 15-foot birdie on the 16th and saved par with a 15-footer on the final hole for a 69 that looked like it might be good enough to win.

But the Irishman responded with clutch shots of his own. He hit a 3-wood into the wind to 40 feet on the par-5 15th and got down in two putts for birdie, giving him a two-shot lead. Standing in the 17th fairway, still aware that Norman could make eagle and stay in the game, Harrington hit a 5-wood that bounded onto the green and up the ridge, stopping 4 feet away for eagle.

That gave him a four-shot lead, and he knew it was over when his tee shot found the 18th fairway. He finished at 3-over 283, becoming the first European since James Braid in 1905-06 to win the Open in successive years.

It was his first victory since the British Open last year, and it could not have come at a better time. Harrington moved to the top of Europe's Ryder Cup standings, and the victory moved him to No. 3 in the world ranking behind Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.

"I'm quite enjoying this," Harrington said, cradling the claret jug. "I don't think I'll get down off the stage."

Norman played a familiar role as the tragic figure.

He lost his two-shot lead after the third hole and wound up in a tie for third with Henrik Stenson, who shot 71. The 77 was one shot better than the last time Norman led a major, closing with a 78 in the 1996 Masters.

"I walk away from here disappointed, but with my head held high, because I hung in there," Norman said.

Poulter thought he could bring England its first British Open since Nick Faldo in 1992, playing bogey-free over his final 15 holes. He went to the practice range in case of a playoff, but put his clubs away when he saw that Harrington made eagle on the 17th hole.

Topics : Golf
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