Padraig Harrington is the first European to win back-to-back majors and the first to win the PGA since Tommy Armour in 1930. Padraig Harrington stakes a claim to being the world's No. 2 golfer with PGA Championship comeback

BLOOMFIELD HILLS, Mich. - As Sergio Garcia took a three-shot lead over him into the back nine of the PGA Championship, Padraig Harrington forced himself to keep believing. Arguably the most unlikely majors-dominant golfer in history, Harrington leaned on the lessons he learned in majors past.

Just not the majors you'd think. This wasn't about the 2007 British Open Harrington won by charging back on the same Sergio Garcia. Or this July's British Open when Harrington blistered Royal Birkdale Golf Club with a 32 on the back nine. Instead, to go 66-66 in his final 36 holes - 27 of them played on Sunday - and win the PGA at Oakland Hills Country Club by two strokes over a thunderstruck Sergio Garcia and a hospitality-tent-struck Ben Curtis, Harrington turned to his experience at the 2006 U.S. Open.

That's the Winged Foot Open, the Phil Mickelson-infamous "blow it on 18" Open. Almost no one remembers that Padraig Harrington was very much in contention at that U.S. Open - until he bogeyed the last three holes. That would make many golfers cringe in future majors.

Mickelson hasn't come close to winning in 10 majors since Winged Foot. After Garcia hit his approach shot on 16 into the water and pushed an even more damaging five-foot putt to the left on 17 here at Oakland Hills, many felt the echoes of Carnoustie haunting him, too.

It turns out Harrington is different than Mickelson and Garcia, though. And maybe just about every other golfer not named Tiger Woods.

"I walked off the 18th hole (in the Open finale), the 72nd hole at Winged Foot, and I said, 'Now I know how to win a major. I know I will win a major,'" Harrington said, the Wanamaker Trophy sitting in front of him. "Winged Foot was pivotal. Even though I finished with three bogeys, I played awesome for the first 15 holes.

"Yes, I lost. I was one of the losers at Winged Foot. And in many ways, I dodged a bullet, because there were some more high-profile losers that day. People didn't know that Padraig Harrington bogeyed the last three holes."

Everyone knows Harrington now after the Irishman drained a swerving 20-foot par putt on 16, a 10-foot birdie putt on 17 and a 15-foot par putt on 18 to stun Garcia in the PGA Championship. Harrington's now won two straight majors (he's the first European in history to ever do that) and three of the last six majors - more than any other man on the planet in that time span, including No. 1 Tiger Woods, who has missed the last two of those six majors.

That had Ben Curtis putting the unassuming Irishman - the guy whose celebration consisted of spinning his 4-year-old son Patrick around by the scorer's tent - right past Tiger to the majors-record-holder Jack Nicklaus.

"No, not 'Watch out, Tiger,'" Curtis said. "Watch out, Jack. You know, obviously (Harrington) knows how to win. He's not afraid to win. And that's what it takes."

While Curtis is the only one making those kind of statements (Tiger still does lead Harrington in majors 14-3), almost everyone is accepting of the notion that Harrington should now be regarded as the second best golfer in the world - no matter what the rankings or Phil Mickelson's Crown Plaza ads say.

The 36-year-old Harrington now has just as many majors (three) as Mickelson, Ernie Els and Vijay Singh each do, and Harrington is the only one on a roll.

"I think I willed those putts in," Harrington said of his back nine run on the greens, the type of putting run that only Tiger Woods is supposed to have.

A back nine duel at Oakland Hills

A major that started with talk of an unfair setup and boring golf evolved into one of the most memorable back nine showdowns in recent majors memory.

At one point early in the back nine, Garcia, Curtis, Harrington and Henrik Stenson found themselves separated by a total of three shots. Any four of them could have grabbed it.

When Harrington birdied 10 and 12 with a 30-foot putt - the kind of putt that Garcia never seems to be able to pull off - the championship loomed as a 1-on-1 duel. Garcia and Harrington - flashy vs. unassuming, dying for a major vs. already major validated - were both at 3-under. Curtis came back into the picture, but playing in the final group behind Garcia and Harrington, the man in Detroit Lions gear airmailed his drive over the hulking 45-foot-tall corporate tents that are a ways removed from the 16th fairway.

"I don't know if that was a beer tent or not," Curtis joked.

It certainly was the end of Curtis' chances of beating Harrington. That shot sealed a 1-over 71 for Curtis, the worst round among the three players dueling down the stretch.

J.B. Holmes, who slept on the PGA Championship lead both Friday and Saturday nights (despite not hitting a single shot on Saturday), lost it on the first hole of his final round. Playing in the last group, Holmes unleashed one of his mammoth drives far, far left into a thicket of massive pine trees. The ball lay right underneath one of the pines, yet Holmes still tried to hit it out.

He hit it a foot - still under pine. Holmes then still had to take the drop he later admitted he should have taken the shot before. The blatant miss-hit and misjudgement led to a triple bogey 7 and Holmes' horror was only beginning.

The U.S. Ryder Cup wildcard candidate played the first eight holes in eight over. Holmes lost five shots on the first three holes alone.

Mickelson gave himself a much better shot than Holmes, birdieing three of the first four holes to get to plus-one, still four back of the lead but in contention. Bogies on No. 8 and No. 11 left him needing a miracle, though. He finished 71-70 on the weekend when Oakland Hills' greens softened and lower scores could be had.

It all left Mickelson - who's been much more prevalent in those Crown Plaza commercials that keep running during the majors than on the big events' leaderboards the last two years - strangely wanting to talk about the weather.

"I had an enjoyable time here in Michigan and interesting weather," Mickelson said. "I didn't expect it to be this cool. It thought it was going to be warm the whole time."

Maybe Mickelson felt the breeze of a new No. 2. All because Harrington kept forcing himself to believe.

"It looked like his day," Harrington said of Garcia. "Especially when he makes two really good up-and-downs on 8 and 9. He's holing putts, which is obviously an area that maybe he struggled with in the past. It's really looking like it's going to happen for him.

"I had to try and convince myself, you know, to not get into this sentimental thing. That maybe it's his turn. That, you know, maybe he deserves it. Maybe, it's his day.

"I had to convince myself that, no, it's going to be my day, and I deserve to win three majors."

August 11, 2008

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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  • CELTIC TIGER

    Peter Fry wrote on: Aug 11, 2008

    Way to go Padraig!

    Reply