While pulling away from the field on the final six holes Sunday at Royal Birkdale, Padraig Harrington showed that there's more than one way to win a British Open.
Last year at Carnoustie Golf Club, Harrington battled Sergio Garcia tooth and nail to capture his first major championship in a playoff. This time around, Harrington's late surge gave him a four-shot victory over Ian Poulter, making him Europe's first back-to-back Open champion in more than a century.
"There's a different satisfaction this year," Harrington told reporters. "Definitely, last year was a thrilling win and it was exciting and I was on top of the world when I won. This year is more satisfying.
"I feel more accomplished this year. I feel this will probably give me more confidence."
Harrington shot 1-under-par 69 in the final round to finish at 3-over 283 for the tournament at Southport, England. His performance earned him a nearly $1.5 million first-place check and allowed him to climb to No. 3 in the world rankings behind Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.
"I'm really thrilled with the way I felt today on the golf course," Harrington said. "I hit the ball as pure as I could and just felt really good. I felt comfortable out there. I felt really within myself, very comfortable."
Remarkable, considering that Harrington figured it was about 50-50 that he'd even finish the tournament due to a wrist injury suffered eight days earlier. He barely practiced last Tuesday and Wednesday, just hoping the wrist would be well enough to allow him to start his title defense.
Harrington said the injury turned out to be a great distraction for him.
"I have to look back and there's no question having a wrist injury pushed everything about coming back to defend to the side," Harrington said. "It took a lot of pressure off me. It took a lot of stress off me. It was a good distraction to have."
After closing his front nine with three consecutive bogeys, Harrington said he was particularly focused on the back nine. He birdied Nos. 13 and 15 and then smashed a perfect 5-wood into the wind at No. 17, hitting the ball to within four feet of the cup, where he sank the eagle putt that all but made sure he'd keep the claret jug for another year.
Despite his 4-under 32 on the back nine, Harrington said his approach was all about being tough-minded in difficult conditions. For the third consecutive day, the wind was howling, gusting up to 40 mph.
Harrington's day helped spoil the Cinderella story of 53-year-old Greg Norman, who entered the final round with a two-stroke lead and an opportunity to become the oldest major champion ever. However, Norman was 3 over after three, shot 77 and finished tied for third with Henrik Stenson at 9-over 289.
Still, it was a remarkable run for Norman. He came to the Open with low expectations, having not played or practiced much recently as he's been on his honeymoon after marrying former tennis great Chris Evert less than a month ago.
"Obviously, I'm disappointed," Norman told reporters. "That would be an understatement if I didn't say I was disappointed, but it was a tough day today.
"I can walk away from here being disappointed, but I can walk away from here with my head held high because I hung in there."
Poulter shot 69 Sunday. When he posted his 7-over 287, it was starting to look like it might just be good enough to win.
"I've certainly put in a decent show today," Poulter told reporters. "There's plenty more in me and I know I can go better. On that side of it, I'm fairly happy how I've played today and I'll take a lot of confidence from that."
Jim Furyk (71) and Chris Wood (72) tied for fifth at 10-over 290. David Howell carded the round of the day with a 67, joining Ernile Els (69), Robert Karlsson (69), Paul Casey (70), Stephen Ames (71), Steve Stricker (73), Robert Allenby (74), Anthony Kim (75) and Ben Curtis (75) in a tie for seventh at 12-over 292.
But the day obviously belonged to Harrington. Already celebrated in his home country, the 36-year-old Irishman's popularity should only grow after consecutive British Open victories.
"Obviously winning a major puts you in a special club," Harrington said. "Winning two of them puts you in a new club altogether."
First-round leader Richard S. Johnson finished nearly as well as he started, carding a final-round 6-under-64 Sunday to win the U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee by a stroke over Ken Duke at Brown Deer Golf Club.
Johnson, who fired a 7-under 63 Thursday, finished at 16-under 264 to earn a first-place check of $720,000, making birdies on three of his final four holes. He became the sixth golfer from Sweden to post a PGA Tour victory and is the seventh first-time winner on Tour in 2008.
Dean Wilson (65), Chad Campbell (65) and Chris Riley (66) tied for third at 13-under 267. Kenny Perry rallied with a final-round 64 to tie for sixth with Troy Matteson (66), Joe Ogilvie (67) and George McNeill (67) for sixth at 12-under 268.
July 21, 2008
With stellar play on the back nine at Royal Birkdale, Padraig Harrington shot a 69 in the final round to earn a four-shot victory and become Europe's first back-to-back British Open champion in more than a century. He earned nearly $1.5 million and climbed to No. 3 in the world rankings. "I'm really thrilled with the way I felt today on the golf course," Harrington said. "I hit the ball as pure as I could and just felt really good."
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