Pádraig Harrington has rekindled his goal of representing Ireland in next year’s Olympic Games after the 43-year old defeated 21-year-old American rival Daniel Berger in a play-off to capture the Honda Classic at Palm Beach Gardens.
After numerous rain delays and near hurricane-like conditions, Harrington emerged the brightest light in ending a seven-year PGA Tour victory drought.
Harrington came from five shots adrift with 11 holes to play and muscle his way to the front with four birdies in succession from the 11th hole.
However, just when thoughts surfaced Harrington would capture a second Honda Classic and on the 10th anniversary of his first, he dunked his tee shot into the water guarding the 17th green and took a double bogey to fall one stroke behind Berger, who was in the clubhouse after a 64.
“I wasn’t sure I’d be holding this when I hit in the big lake,” Harrington said last night.
But with long-time caddy Ronan Flood remarking down the 18th hole in regulation ‘Look, would you have taken this on Thursday’, Harrington responded in the positive and managed to hole his 15-foot birdie putt to force the play-off.
Both players returned to the 18th to par the hole before heading to the 17th where it was Berger’s turn to find the water, and after Berger eventually putted out for a double bogey, it left Harrington three putts to win a sixth PGA title and the 29th victory of his pro career.
Harrington was gracious in congratulating Berger but was soon boasting he was back on “top of the pile” in what he described as a “career changing” success, restating his goal of walking out into Rio’s Olympic Stadium next year behind the Ireland flag.
“Winning my first PGA Tour event here in 2005 was big and winning my first Major at Carnoustie in 2007 was life-changing. To win this event is career-changing,” he said.
“I say that, given where I have been at in recent years, to be back sitting here now as a tournament winner as I will now be back in the feature draws at tournaments.
“It will make a big change to my career and for the moment I am just enjoying being a winner again.
“But then all wins are sweet and even winning out in Indonesia last year was so enjoyable when I was out there last December, so winning is so much better than anything else.
“Believe or not, I would rather win in Indonesia than finish second anywhere else, as winning is just fantastic.
“This win, as important to my career it will be the next couple of years, will see me back on top of the pile, in that I will get better draws, be able to reshape my schedule and world ranking-wise, it’s a huge lift.
“And I’ve been telling the guys back home, the Olympics is a big goal of mine and I’d love to be competing in Rio next year and while it is a big ask, this win is a step in that direction.”
Harrington collected a first prize cheque of $1.098m (€980,000) to take his PGA Tour career earnings in 229 events to just under $25m (€22m), but only after having to wait 119 events for another success since capturing the 2008 PGA Championship.
Harrington has not been totally without victory as he’s won twice since 2008 on the Asian Tour including landing the 2014 Indonesian Open title in the first week of December.
And after slumping to World No. 385 midway through last year, Harrington as the new 82nd-ranked player had some timely advice for Tiger Woods, seven places higher in the rankings but heading in the opposite direction as 43-year old Harrington.
“Normally you would be very happy to be seven spots behind Tiger but at least I am going up the rankings and let’s hope he can, and the two of us can start moving upwards,” he said.
“And I can guarantee it that it was a big help to me Retief Goosen playing that well last week in LA and to see players like Tiger and Retief who I have played so much against over the years doing well, as Retief is 46 and Tiger’s in his 40th year.”
Among those wishing Harrington congratulations was his long-time sports psychologist Dr Bob Rotella along with good friend and fellow Open and PGA Championship winner, Phil Mickelson who shot a final round 73 to share fifth place on three under with Scotland’s Russell Knox (68) and England’s Paul Casey (68).
“I was rooting for Pádraig and it’s just fabulous to see him win again,” said Mickelson.
“He and Ronan along with Bones [Mickelson’s caddy] and myself go back a long way.”
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