Bjorn ends two-year title drought as Harrington's hopes fizzle out
SHERLOCK HOLMES himself could have come striding out of the dense Alpine fog which spookily shrouded Crans.
The final throes of the Omega European Masters were as nail-biting as any Arthur Conan Doyle 'whodunnit'... fittingly, Dane Thomas Bjorn won it in a sudden-death play-off.
Sadly, Padraig Harrington failed to blow away the mist clouding his career for the past five years on a weekend which failed to live up to the promise of the Dubliner's second-round 65.
Harrington tumbled down the leaderboard into a share of 41st on four-under (worth €13,420) after following up Saturday's one-over-par 72 with a closing 73 in which he played the back nine in a calamitous 40 strokes.
On the plus side, the 42-year-old is likely to find the links at Kennemer, venue for this week's KLM (Dutch) Open, more suited to his game than the spectacular but sometimes quirky course in Crans.
Harrington had given this atmospheric event a wide berth since missing the cut there in 2000. Indeed, Crans probably is one of the last places many would have chosen for him to play as he tried to recover confidence after missing the cut in five of his past six outings on tour and failing to make the FedEx Cup play-offs in the US.
In that respect, Harrington can actually take no little encouragement from his overall performance in the Swiss Alps, especially with a couple of outings to the seaside in offing at Zandvoort and then the Dunhill Links at St Andrews, an event he has won twice.
Harrington certainly broke his worrying birdie-drought in Crans, where he made 21 in all, including eight last Friday.
The great difference between the Dubliner and his long-time rival Bjorn in Switzerland was Harrington's failure to cope well with the five tricky par threes in Crans, where he dropped 10 shots against just one by the Dane.
Also, when Bjorn made mistakes, his scrambling was infinitely better than Harrington's. The winner got up and down on 18 of the 20 times he missed the green in regulation, while the Irishman saved par 14 times out of 24 occasions all week and just once out of six yesterday.
Bjorn beat Martin Kaymer by four strokes to claim his most recent tour win at Crans in 2011, but extra-time was required yesterday after Craig Lee grazed the hole at 18 with a brave 16-foot putt for a birdie that would have given the 36-year-old from Stirling his maiden victory.
They both tied on 20-under after the Dane hounded down his opponent with a final-round 65. Lee, who'd surged into the 54-hole lead with Saturday's thrilling course record 61, played well yesterday but found birdie chances a little harder to come by during a closing 67.
"This is nice," said Bjorn as he cradled the trophy. "I'd a really good run through the summer and did not really get close enough. I had to grit my teeth for a while and I really wanted to get out and try to win a golf tournament again.
"I came in this week not playing particularly great but promised myself I'd stick to how I play this golf course," added the Dane, candidly admitting he went out of his way in Crans not to be so hard on himself on the course.
He also confessed that winning in a play-off made this occasion even more special. "I've had a hard time dealing with pressure situations in the past, so it's really nice to win like that," said Bjorn, who sank a 12-foot putt for birdie on the first tie hole to bring his sudden-death record to two wins out of four.
Gareth Maybin signed off impressively with a neat, bogey-free 68 for a share of 22nd place on seven-under par. The €23,870 he earned propelled the Ulsterman into 77th in the Race to Dubai on €300,962.
Harrington lies 60th on €375,101. Michael Hoey, winner of July's Russian Masters, is 86th in the European Money list with €269,893 after boosting his earnings by a mere €9,460 yesterday. Hoey finished with a share of 49th on two-under after his closing 67.
* ALAN DUNBAR slipped into a four-way tie for fourth on five-under after dropping two shots down the stretch in his final-round 72 at the Cotes d'Armor Bretagne in Pleneuf Val Andre. The Portrush native finished six shy of winner Italy's Andrea Pavan, who clinched his second win of the Challenge Tour season with a two-over 72.