THOUGH some of his keenest supporters feared Pádraig Harrington would never return to the major championship winning form of 2007 and 2008 the man himself has insisted throughout a summer of swing changes that he ‘will have the last laugh’.
There were times when he must have wondered if he was travelling down the right road mapped out by swing coach Bob Torrance and sports psychologist Dr Bob Rotella.
But now that he has tied second in two of his last three tournaments, the highly competitive WGC Bridgestone and the Barclays, he is entitled to smile quietly to himself and feel vindicated.
However, that’s not Harrington’s way. Just as he didn’t believe his career was in crisis as he missed cut after cut, the Dubliner doesn’t now feel that a few good results in late August means he has finally turned the corner.
“It’s only two tournaments,” he pointed out after finishing a shot behind Heath Slocum, over the astonishing Liberty National course in Jersey City on Sunday. “The first six months of the year were frustrating, no doubt about that, and it’s nice to be pushing along. I know wins will come. If I don’t win this week, maybe I will next week, that’s the way it is. It’s nice to be in contention and I’m happy enough. It’s nice to play better as I get more in contention. That’s always a good sign. My focus is better, I hit the ball better. Coming down the stretch, that’s exactly where I want to be.”
Harrington moves this week to the Deutsche Bank for the second of the four Fed-Ex Cup series tournaments having improved 52 places from 66th to 14th in the points list and now a very solid bet to be among the top 30 who contest the Tour Championship in Atlanta at the end of the month. He has also returned to the top ten in the world rankings (ninth).
There are those who may never forget his triple bogey eight at the 16th in the WGC-Bridgestone when he was leading Tiger Woods by a shot and especially the quintuple bogey eight at the eighth that destroyed his chance at the US PGA Championship. No doubt about it, the disappointment after those two golfing disasters was acute although it shouldn’t be overlooked that the Irishman tied for second in the first of those events and for 10th in the second.
He also ran up a double bogey seven at the eighth in the second round of the Barclays and even though that fate befell most of the field at Liberty National, it is obvious that victory won’t be his until he avoids these lapses.
However, not even his greatest critics could deny the merit of his performance coming down the stretch on Sunday. American television hardly realised Harrington was in the tournament throughout the outward nine holes even though he was within three or four shots of the lead. And it wasn’t until the 12th, where he began a run of four birdies over the final seven holes, that Nick Faldo and the CBS team were awakened to his presence.
When he rattled in a great 18 footer for a three on the 18th, a homeward run of 32, a round of 67 and an eight under par total of 276, Harrington had every chance of figuring in a play-off for the title. However, he was obliged to settle for the 32nd runner-up spot of his career when Slocum sank a huge par putt on the final green to stay on nine under.
“I was never sure but I was pushing as hard as I could,” Harrington said. “I hit a nice shot into 17 and even when I didn’t make birdie, I wasn’t thinking it wasn’t going to be my day. I holed the putt on 18 and you never know.”
Barclays plan is to move the tournament around the tri-state area and next year it moves to Plainfield, New Jersey. While many will be sorry to see it leave Liberty National, at least for now, the event certainly makes for a great start to the Fed-Ex series and is one that obviously sits well with Harrington, who won it in 2005 when it was known as the Westchester Classic.
That was the second of his three wins in the US (the Honda Classic the same year and the ‘08 US PGA Championship are the others). If he maintains his current rate of progress, it is perfectly reasonable to expect Harrington to make that four by the end of September.
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