AS a kid around Stackstown, Pádraig Harrington never played out a two-out fantasy to win a major. Just like no one ever dreamt of netting the winner in a Cup final off their backside.
It was always a 90-foot raker over undulation and break. Magical and unlikely. It’s the comic-strip sporting climax but the reality is something more prosaic, and two-putts get the job done just as enjoyably, Harrington confirmed after winning his fourth major – and a first on the PGA Senior Tour – in Pennsylvania Sunday night.
“As kids, we certainly want it to be magical and dream about it,” the Dubliner said after clinching the win and a cheque for €681,000. “Golf's not like that, to be honest. It was a tough day. I said yesterday, where having a five-shot lead going out if I played great I could wave at the crowd and take shots on.
“But golf just doesn't be like that. It always, always - how many times do we see it? It always comes down to the last couple of holes. You know, when it got very tight, my caddie just kept reminding me that, if we were told we were going to be in this position on Sunday when we arrived here, a week in advance if we were told we were going to be with a one-shot lead, we'd be very happy. I had to take it as an opportunity the last couple of holes.”
Harrington finished with a one-over par round and held off a charging Steve Stricker by a shot to win the US Senior Open at Saucon Valley Country Club in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He turned 50 last August, making him eligible for the Senior Tour, looked for the first three rounds to have too power power and to much game for the field. He held a six shot lead at the turn in the final round and looked in total control.
Did he tighten up?
“I think it's harder -- it is very hard with a five-shot lead. You're definitely very defensive. The last couple of holes, I suppose when I got back to a one-shot lead, I was still somewhat defensive, but it's a position you want to be in.
“I didn't enjoy hitting that putt on the last from three feet, but you just have to accept it. If you want to win tournaments, you've got to put yourself out there. It could have been bad, but I got the glory instead. Obviously, there's a lot of pressure on this type of style of golf course when you're leading. You don't want to make a mistake. Any time you're more than 20 feet away from the hole you're in trouble in some ways. So it was definitely a tension-filled day.”
Harrington admitted that, by nature, he is not a leaderboard watcher, but when he made bogeys on No’s 10 and 11, he says he started looking for indications of what was going on elsewhere.
“When I got around to 13, I think I saw a leaderboard that Steve was -7. I thought he was 6, then he was 7, and that meant a two-shot lead. I knew things were tight. I heard a few cheers as I played 14. Then as I was going to 15, I heard cheers. I couldn't tell who they were for.
“After birdieing 15 I hit a nice tee shot down 16 and we (caddie Ronan Flood) heard a big cheer on 18. I said, I assume that's Steve? Ronan says, yeah, he's making birdie at the last to be 9-under.”
Harrington finished on -10 (274), prompting questions whether he should still be out there on the regular tour week-in, week-out.
“I would have shot lower than 10-under par if the other guys were here. I wouldn't have been defending. I would have been attacking. I would have shot lower. If there was somebody out in front of me, I think I would have shot lower. But if you put a field of those young guys out there, the depth is very strong. You fancy your chances playing one-on-one against a player, but when you're playing one against 155 of those young guys, they're pretty good when they're on form.”
He added: “This is special for me because I've never won a USGA event. I think that adds more than if you could turn around and win a different senior major. But because I was never a US Open normal champion or a junior champion, it's great to come and win the senior one. It adds something that I never had in my career.”