Harrington waiting for Order of Merit win to sink in

Even when he had kissed his wife, hugged his son and been congratulated all round Padraig Harrington still wanted the evidence on a piece of paper in front of him.

Even when he had kissed his wife, hugged his son and been congratulated all round Padraig Harrington still wanted the evidence on a piece of paper in front of him.

“I need to see the Order of Merit – just to prove it,” said the 35-year-old Irishman after pipping Paul Casey to the European Tour number one spot in an extraordinary finish to the last event.

With Casey 21st in the Volvo Masters at Valderrama, Harrington had to finish tied for second to grab the title by – and this at the end of a season in which they had both earned over €2.4m.

Three birdies in six holes from the 11th were followed by gutsy pars on the 17th and 18th (first after he had gone into the lake, then after he had hooked deep into the trees), but that still left him in a three-way tie for third as he signed his scorecard.

There were still seven groups to finish, however, and an hour later Sergio Garcia, playing in the last but one of them, pushed a horrid approach to the last into a bunker, came out 30 feet short and missed the putt.

The Spaniard’s main thought was that it had handed the tournament to India’s Jeev Milkha Singh, but it also had the effect of lifting Harrington into a three-way tie for second.

Casey was left the nearly man and Harrington, with the 30th runners-up finish of his career, was the new king of the circuit for the first time.

“It’s been a big goal of mine, but I feel very disappointed for Paul Casey - a lot of things conspired against him,” he said, referring not just to the chain of events, but also to the fact Casey had suffered food poisoning earlier in the week.

“I should have been playing the Euro Lotto this week. Over the last six holes everything went for me.

“When I had my 29th second place (he lost a play-off for the BMW International at the start of last month) I was thinking the 30th was going to be a bit of a milestone. But this is a nice way to get there.

“I never lost patience. My caddie kept pushing me to stay focused and then for some reason it was vintage Harrington – I just willed the ball into the hole.

“My focus was excellent all week. I kept my head in the right place.”

He was aware his success came courtesy of Garcia, but added: “He owed me one.”

Two years ago on the US Tour the pair tied for the Buick Classic, Harrington missed a six-foot putt at the first play-off hole and Garcia went on to win.

Although he was second on the money list to Retief Goosen in 2001 and 2002, then third behind Ernie Els the following two years, Harrington chose to think further back – to the time he decided to play golf for a living rather than be an accountant.

“Ten years ago I would have been happy to be a journeyman finishing 70-75th. I’ve come a long way.”

There is still a way to go yet to achieve all he wants to now, though.

In the 2002 Open at Muirfield and this June’s US Open at Winged Foot he came to the last hole with a chance to win, but bogeyed each time.

They were crushing disappointments at the time, but they also showed him he could do it and he cannot wait to get into contention again. The next opportunity comes at Augusta in the Masters next April.

Casey will be there too, which he was not this spring. That in itself says how much he has improved, but it would have meant an awful lot to him to go back there as Order of Merit winner.

Garcia cost him that and at the same time opened the door for Singh, 147th in the world entering the week, to achieve comfortably the biggest win of his career.

The 36-year-old did it with a two under par total on one of Europe’s toughest tests and the first prize lifted him all the way to 16th on the money list.

That means he misses out by one spot on a place in next June’s US Open, but he was happy enough.

“This is going to stay with me for the rest of my life,” he said. “I think it’s going to be big for Indian golf. I feel more sponsors will come out and more kids will try to make a career from the sport.”

His father was a famous Olympic sprinter and Singh added: “He always told me to stay in the present and to breathe well, to stay calm when the pressure was on. It certainly helped.”

David Howell and Robert Karlsson also had hopes of the Order of Merit with a round to go, but as it turned out Howell needed to finish a shot ahead of Harrington rather than a shot behind in joint fifth, while Karlsson was alongside Casey in 21st spot.

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