For the second summer in succession, Pádraig Harrington is returning to the scene of a major championship triumph and just as he did at Birkdale 12 months ago, he will be sure to smell the roses as he makes his way around the famous links at Carnoustie.
The Scottish links will always be synonymous in Irish minds with Harrington following his maiden Open Championship victory there in 2007.
Given Carnoustie is an annual European Tour stop, one of three courses that serve the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship each autumn, this will not be his first trip back to the fearsome Angus track. Yet after the epic events of 11 years ago, returning as the course’s defending Open champion is worthy of reflection and recollection of a very special moment in what has become a multi-major-winning career.
The thrilling final day that transformed into a nerve-wracking play-off between Ireland’s Harrington and Spain’s Sergio Garcia will continue to live long in Irish sporting folklore, as the Dubliner landed a first major for his country since Fred Daly 60 years before.
Harrington had first reeled in a six-shot deficit on overnight leader Garcia, thanks to an eagle at the 14th and four birdies but needed to survive a double bogey at the par-four last, twice finding the water of the Barry Burn and hope his rival did not make par to progress to a play-off.
That was only the start of the drama. Garcia did bogey the 72nd hole and then took bogey at the first extra hole of the four-hole play-off. Harrington birdied the par-four first to take an early two-shot lead and with both men parring the 16th and 17th, it went back to the 18th, widely regarded as the toughest closing hole in The Open rotation.
Harrington reached the green in three, Garcia in two, but the Spaniard missed his birdie putt and the Irishman took the short bogey putt to seal his famous victory. Eleven years on, and it is a more than familiar tale but Harrington knows it will be repeated plenty more times this week, which is why he was happy to conduct a media day at Carnoustie in May and take a little pressure off himself ahead of this week, when he would much rather focus on the present.
“I think Carnoustie is different to Birkdale. I go back to Carnoustie every year at the Dunhill Championship. So I’m familiar with the golf course, and Birkdale, I had not been back in the nine years,” Harrington explained at Ballyliffin during the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open earlier this month. “That was certainly nostalgic.
“If you want to be competitive, you’ve got to figure a way of taking it somewhat easy during the week. When it comes to a major, the goal is to turn up and be ready so that you do less the week of a major. You certainly don’t do more practice the week of a major. You do less. You do less work in the gym. You do less work, practice. You actually take it easier. But I realise, it’s likely I’ll only go back and defend at Carnoustie once. So I’ll make an extra effort to enjoy it. I’ll take time to smell the roses. I did at Birkdale.
“You realise as you get later on in your career, these things don’t happen as often as you would like them to happen. So you’ve got to make a conscious effort to enjoy it.”
As oft-told as Harrington has retold the tale of his Carnoustie glory, there are remarkably some details still to reveal and when pressed, the 46-year-old duly delivered.
“There’s a lot of stories. I don’t know which ones you don’t know. I tell the stories. I try and explain it, any winning a tournament, especially major tournaments, there are so many things that happen in the week that can’t be replicated, and people seem to think that it’s a 100% under the control of the player winning. It’s about getting yourself into a state of mind and a place that you play good golf that could lead to you being in contention that could lead to you winning....
“But the most bizarre story was something which happened going up the first play-off hole when I hit my tee shot down the fairway. Sergio’s hit an iron short right of me in the rough and as we walked up, a small, black cloud came across the sun, like a really, really dark thundercloud and the temperature dropped five degrees. And I had been playing the week before in the European Club, and I was amazed how much the modern golf ball changes its performance in temperature.
“So the new golf balls go forever when it gets warm, but I wouldn’t have seen the backside of that, how short it goes when it gets cool. So I think I had 168 yards into the pin on the first hole and I saw the temperature drop. I took an extra club, hit it harder than I wanted to hit it, but I wasn’t intending, because I take the next club and thought I was going to hit a smooth 7-iron and ended up hitting a hard 7-iron and just got it to pin-high. Sergio, I don’t know how he hit it but he was two clubs short with where he landed his second shot.
“So all because this one black cloud came across the sun and the temperature dropped, and I played the week before at the European Club and I had seen this happen, how the weather, when a shower comes in or something like that, can effect the modern golf ball.
“The golf ball went into the wind and didn’t go. Now, literally, I could be playing in the States and in the same day, if you had a seven- or eight-mile-an-hour wind out of the left in the States, I can hit a 9-iron — I’ve hit it like 170 yards. That would be a 5-iron at home. Certainly a 6-iron.
“Is that story unusual enough?”
That’ll do nicely Pádraig.