PÁDRAIG HARRINGTON, a palpably decent and likeable man, a Dubliner, a millionaire sportsman, an Irish sporting icon, represents the most fascinating human element of the Ryder Cup in Wales for those of us who have what could be called a lukewarm catholic interest in golf.
He is an enigma wrapped around a complex paradox when it involves his game.
He is a wild card choice for Celtic Manor. Maybe he is always a wild card in the rarefied sphere of golf at the very top level. In that sense his progress in any tournament or competition is always compelling viewing. You never know which Harrington is going to turn up on the day.
Take last week in Paris in the Viviendi Cup. In keeping with his form all season and judged by his own standards the Dublin man was struggling from the beginning. It is a fact that he barely made the cut. It is a fact that after five holes of round three he was in last place of all. And it is also typical of Harrington that he produced an amazing round of 64 on the last day, his best round of the season. Surrounded by an eagle and a flock of birdies he drove himself through the field to finish with a good cheque in his fist and a splendid preparation for Celtic Manor.
With any other golfer of his class this would strongly indicate a likely great performance at Celtic Manor. With Harrington you never can tell.
Nobody benefited more from Tiger’s injury absence than Harrington. He put together a winning streak that brought him from a perennial Nearly Man and runner-upper to three majors and a massive fortune in the bank. Then he was ranked in the world top three, a competitor to be feared by all.
Today, heading for Wales, he has slipped to 22nd and has not won a title all season. But, significantly, as in Paris, he is rarely out of the top 10 any time he plays, he captures more bread-and-butter cheques than about anyone else, and the capacity is always there for a surprise. Will there be another next weekend? He said something very interesting after that blazing round in Paris. Maybe he told the inside story of his career in just one paragraph. He was speaking of the strong possibility of being paired with the Spaniard Miguel Angel Jiminez in the foursomes (they played together before) and he said: “Miguel is the only professional golfer who seems to be totally happy in his own skin.
“No matter what you see on the outside the rest of us have issues of trying to justify who we are. We all have our own insecurities and constantly need to keep proving ourselves. Not Miguel.”
There it was in a nutshell. There are some grounds for thinking that this smiling and apparently calm six footer is less comfortable in his own skin than many of his peers. He works harder at his game, it is said, than many of them in that almost incredible
commercial and sporting jungle where, for example, the American Jim Furyk won over $10million last week by taking the Tour Championship and thereby winning the Fedex Cup. If the rewards are so huge then too are the challenges. It is also remarkable that the Ryder Cup, without commercial reward of any significance, engenders such intense rivalry between the aggressive Americans and the Europeans. Honour is at stake.
We learned yesterday that the peevish yet professional Montgomerie, who never won a major, has prepared a losing speech already in case of an American triumph. The Scot swam against the tide to select the Dubliner as one of his wild cards instead of the likes of Paul Casey and Justin Rose. Even though Harrington’s record in the Ryder Cup is not scintillating there is huge respect and appreciation there and hope that the Harrington who will do battle next weekend will be the one freed by himself to fly around the course with birdies and eagles.
We know already the parameters inside which the rest of the team will operate. Such as the rookie Rory McIlroy, young and unafraid of anything, will be flamboyant and aggressive for example, win or lose. But Harrington will be the unknown factor from the beginning. On his day he has beaten Tiger eyeball to eyeball. On his off days his long game goes astray dramatically and he struggles all day and his face betrays his discomfort. We never know which Harrington will stand on that first tee and that makes his progress and performance especially compelling stuff.
A wild card indeed from beginning to end. Either the deuce of spades or the King of Clubs.........
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