Hero’s welcome for Pádraig — and the Claret Jug

THE Claret Jug coveted by golfers the world over made a return journey to Dublin last night as Open champion Pádraig Harrington came home to a hero’s welcome.

Just as he did last year the day after winning the title for the first time, Harrington jetted from Gatwick Airport in London to Weston Aerodrome on the fringes of Dublin city.

The two-time champion arrived just after 9.30pm, tired but happy after a day of interviews and charity appearances in England and accompanied by the famous Claret Jug.

“It’s great for the local people,” said a spokesperson for Weston. “It’s great for the kids and Pádraig is a very amenable guy, very friendly.”

His first duty back in his home town was a press conference at Weston Airport.

Much was made in recent days of Pádraig Harrington’s sporting roots, and the fact that his father Paddy played in two All-Ireland football finals with Cork back in the 1950s.

Berehaven Golf Club, in his father’s native part of west Cork, is to make the Open champion an honorary life member in recognition of his achievements.

His uncles Michael and Jerome, and several cousins were glued to TVs in Ardgroom, near Castletownbere, to watch him defend his title on Sunday.

“A huge group of us gathered to watch it — it was hard to believe, seeing him win it a second time,” said his cousin John.

“We are incredibly proud of Pádraig and had a great time watching him lift the Claret Jug.”

Lady captain at Berehaven, Mary Harrington, whose husband Barry is a cousin of Pádraig’s, said everyone was delighted with his success.

“And it was a double celebration for the Harrington family on Sunday. Our son Lorcan won the captain’s prize on the same day as Pádraig won,” she said.

Meanwhile, two leading bookmakers claimed the Dubliner’s win on Sunday cost them a combined €3 million.

Paddy Power said that, while Harrington’s odds drifted from 18/1 out to 28/1 last week because of his pre-tournament injuries, they were still left with €2 million in liabilities.

However, he proved popular with betting-in-running punters and started his final round as 13/5 favourite.

“It feels like we’ve dodged a bullet,” said Paddy Power spokesperson Paddy Power. “Once again the Harrington punters have taken our pants down but thanks to the wrist injury doubts they’ve left our underwear on!”

Ladbrokes Ireland spokesman, Donal McCarthy, said the win cost them in the region of €1 million.

“With all the talk of Harrington’s injury scare you would have thought punters would have held fire, but that wasn’t the case in Ireland and our industry top price of 20/1 proved extremely popular in our shops.”

The twice-champion is now 16/1 to make it an Open Championship hat-trick in 2009 and a best-priced 16/1 to win next month’s fourth and final major of the season, the USPGA championship at Oakland Hills in Michigan.

Politicians were quick to pay tribute to Pádraig Harrington’s achievement yesterday morning.

Arts, Sport and Tourism Minister Martin Cullen described the victory as a “stunning success” and said the champion is “a wonderful Irishman and a magnificent sporting ambassador for Ireland”.

Labour party spokesperson for sport Mary Upton said Harrington had reached “legendary status” by winning two Opens in a row and that Sunday was one of the greatest days in the history of Irish sport.

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