Harrington relieved to be back on track
THE MAN himself described it as a "monkey off his back".
Yet, after 26 months without a win in any world-ranking event, Padraig Harrington knocked a full-grown gorilla off his shoulders with yesterday's stylish victory at the Iskandar Johor Open in Malaysia.
The Dubliner pocketed $198,125 for his 27th tournament success as a professional and fourth in Asia, but the morale boost he'll take from this first visit to the winner's enclosure since the 2008 US PGA Championship is absolutely priceless.
For much of 2010, Harrington has been frustrated by his inability to transform good form on the practice ground into results on the golf course, while each tournament that passed without a victory compounded the pressure.
Though he recently tumbled out of the world's top 20, Ireland's three-time Major champion remains one of the most accomplished golfers of his generation.
Harrington's long-standing coach, Bob Torrance, insists the 39-year-old's swing is "better than ever" so, having broken his mental shackles in Malaysia, the floodgates now can open for one of Europe's Ryder Cup heroes at Celtic Manor in his remaining four events this season.
With more than $25m to play for at the HSBC World Championship in Shanghai (November 4-7), the Barlcays Singapore Open (November 11-14), Dubai World Championship (November 25-28) and Nedbank Challenge in Sun City (December 2-5), Harrington certainly has every opportunity to cash in before his Christmas break.
The Irishman led by five entering the final round and yesterday's 69 moved him to 20-under (268) after 72 holes at Horizon Hills Golf and Country Club, three ahead of Korea's teenage sensation Seung-Yul Noh (19), who retained the Asian Tour's Order of Merit title with his closing 65.
"It's obviously been a while since I won," said Harrington. "Two years is a long time, especially when you're reminded every week you play.
"It's very nice for me to go and win and get that monkey off my back," he added. "Winning is a habit so it's important for me to get back on track. When you haven't won for a while it makes days like today all the more memorable."
The personal satisfaction he took from this victory was underlined when Harrington was asked if he'd like to dedicate yesterday's success to anyone in particular. "Can I be selfish and say myself?" he said.
Revealing that the neck strain which troubled him on Saturday had been less of a factor in his final round, Harrington went on: "Things went my way all four days. There's no doubt that it was my week to win.
"Anyone who followed me for the four days would not have questioned that my name probably was written on the trophy before the tournament started. I got the breaks all the way through and good things happened to me at the right time.
"Yeah, the luck of the Irish was with me at times but that's important when you're trying to win. You do the right things at times and you get the right breaks. I did a bit of both. I hit some good shots and had a few breaks."
This is Harrington's third success on the Asian Tour, while he also won the Japan Tour's Dunlop-Phoenix in 2006.
In all, he's now tasted victory in 12 different countries but, with the exception of his three Majors and victory at the 2007 Irish Open, few have been as sweet or as timely as this effort in Malaysia.
Harrington set out aggressively yesterday, picking up a hat-trick of birdies as the second, third and fourth holes. He then put himself in "cruise control" after a bogey at the fifth.
"When I birdied 11, it allowed me to open up a little more and it was my tournament at that stage, especially when a couple of more birdies followed at 13 and 14," Harrington went on.
"It was a pity to bogey two of the last three but it was worth being aggressive, trying to show off a little bit. It didn't come off but it's still nice to have that cushion to win the tournament by three."
Explaining he was "a bit run down and tired" after the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor, Harrington is looking forward to a fortnight off before resuming hostilities in Singapore.
"The Ryder Cup took a lot out of me. Luckily in a week like this, I was in contention and you have the adrenaline to keep going. I do need to take a physical break to recharge. An injury like my neck probably occurred because I played one or two weeks too many," he said.