Changing times for the best of enemies Harrington and Garcia
Published 07/08/2014 | 02:30
Sergio Garcia might be forgiven for flinching if he hears an Irish accent any given Sunday on the golf course.
After all, Padraig Harrington twice inflicted heartbreaking defeats on the Spaniard at the 2007 British Open in Carnoustie and again the following year at the climax to the US PGA Championship at Oakland Hills. Then Rory McIlroy kept the 34-year-old at bay in the final round of the Open at Hoylake, followed by Sunday's dramatic turnaround at Firestone, when the Holywood hero came from three behind to beat Garcia by two in the Bridgestone Invitational.
It's a measure of Garcia's morale and bonhomie these days that he laughed as heartily as the audience when asked during his media briefing at Valhalla if he'd "rather there were no Irish guys near you on the leaderboard if you make it into contention next Sunday."
"That's an interesting point," he chuckled. "You know, I wish I could blame it only on the Irish guys. No, I think it's just a curiosity. I've also been close two or three times with Tiger and he's come out on top and, obviously, with Padraig, then lately with Rory. It's just the way it is," Garcia added. "You can look at it in different ways. It's just funny I guess. Good point, though."
As the tide appears to have turned for Sergio, it continues to run powerfully in the opposite direction for Harrington, defying all valiant attempts by the Dubliner to haul himself ashore after six torrid years at sea.
Harrington can forever take pleasure from the three Major titles he won in 13 mesmeric months, while Garcia probably would give his left arm for just one at this stage of his roller-coaster career.
"The game is good, but mentally I am getting in my own way and I am working hard to get out of it," Harrington said of his ongoing struggles in the rip tide. "Every week I hope is going to be the week I do, so it's all still a bit like a work in progress."
Surely he must be buoyed whenever he returns to the Major championship arena? "Having won before doesn't give me an advan- tage at the start, when it's more of a burden to carry," he said. "Though, I think it makes a difference coming down the stretch."
First, of course, Harrington must get himself into contention entering the back nine on a Sunday, with putting together a couple of low rounds an obvious starting point for a player who has fallen from a career high of No 3 in the world rankings to 263rd.
"Four of them in a row would be nice," sighs the 42-year-old. "But I don't have much momentum. In this game, when players do get a good result, they continue to have them and I haven't been doing that.
"Physically, there is nothing wrong at all with my game," Harrington added. "Yes, I could do with momentum and, yes, I could do with the getting out of my own way. All those things are logical and very easily said, but a lot harder to do."
Harrington finds himself in the exalted company of fellow PGA Championship-winners, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, today ... but as he wallows in 187th on the US money list with a paltry $169,175 banked in 13 events, he's embroiled in a frightening scramble to save his card for 2015.
Only a top-four finish (worth $480,000, against $1.8m for the winner) in the richest Major or a top two at next week's regular season finale, The Wyndham Championship, will suffice ... in truth, a couple of seasons rebuilding in Europe seem to be on the cards.
As his Irish nemesis battles grimly to rekindle his career in America, Garcia's is very much on the ascent this year after nearly five seasons in which he appeared to stumble endlessly.
El Nino, the impish kid who hopped, skipped and jumped into a cheeky second place behind Tiger at the 1999 US PGA at Medinah, failed to deliver on that promise at the Majors. Those setbacks at Carnoustie and in Detroit and humiliation at the hands of Anthony Kim on Sunday at the 2008 Ryder Cup here at Valhalla cast a dark pall over his career, while issues in his personal life, particularly the break-up with Greg Norman's daughter, Morgan Leigh, early in 2010 seemed to sap his self-esteem. He sank so low, Garcia took a complete break from golf three years ago, only returning to the fold when Colin Montgomerie asked him to join his backroom team at the 2010 Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor.
Currently enjoying a blissful off-course relationship with Katharina Boehm, Garcia is also in such splendid form on the course that he sees the positive side of those near-misses to McIlroy at Hoylake and Firestone. "I think I'm growing up," he famously said on Sunday evening at the Open. Learning how to cope with adversity may pave his way to victory, perhaps even at Valhalla on Sunday.
Garcia doesn't seem concerned either way. "I don't feel any great urgency about winning a Major. If I get to 45 and haven't won one, then I'll probably start worrying a bit."