Thursday 29 June 2017

Harrington turns back the clock to fuel burning Ryder ambitions

Padraig Harrington with the trophy following his victory at the Portugal Masters Photo: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images
Padraig Harrington with the trophy following his victory at the Portugal Masters Photo: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

Brian Keogh

Three weeks after insisting he wanted to play for Europe rather than captain the 2018 Ryder Cup team, Pádraig Harrington proved that's more than just wishful thinking following the 31st win of his professional career in the Portugal Masters.

The 45-year old hadn't won a European Tour event since the 2008 US PGA Championship and, while he'd since won twice on the Asian Tour before ending his seven year PGA Tour drought at last year's Honda Classic, yesterday's one-shot win in Vilamoura will give him the belief that there may be more glory days to come.

Given that it's been his putting that's held him back more than any other aspect of his game since that third major win in 2008, it was heartening for Harrington's many admirers to see him bury a five-foot par putt on the 72nd green for a bogey-free six-under-par 65 and his 15th European Tour win.

A 23-under-par aggregate of 261 was the lowest winning total of Harrington's 21-year European Tour career, dating to the 1996 Peugeot Spanish Open.

So it was little wonder he was pleased to win by a stroke from English Ryder Cup player Andy Sullivan at the Vilamoura Victoria Clube de Golfe.

'Delighted'

"I am delighted," Harrington said after getting up and down for par at the 16th and for birdie at the 17th to go to the 18th with a one-shot lead over defending champion Sullivan, who parred the last to shoot 65 and set a target of 22 under par.

With his trademark 'crazy eyes' popping, Harrington got a flyer from the right rough at the tough finishing hole, hit the advertising hoardings with his approach before playing a superb chip to five feet past the flag and confidently stroking home the winning putt to the delight of a large Irish crowd.

"My putting has turned the corner recently," the Dubliner beamed after the 50th victory for the Republic of Ireland in European Tour history. "Actually I putted very well from medium-range to outer ranges this week.

"Even though I did miss a few earlier on in the week, my short putting was good and my chipping was outstanding this week.

"I don't think I failed to get up-and-down at all this week, and had three chip-ins and a holed bunker shot.

"When I go back and look at my stats for scrambling this week, I would say I was better than 100 per cent.

"I was very comfortable around the greens this week and that allowed me to be aggressive to the pin. Pretty much all week I just went after every pin because I just felt great around the greens.

"This type of rough and the texture of the greens, I didn't feel like there was anywhere I could be short-sided."

One stroke behind Anders Hansen and Mikko Korhonen overnight, Harrington birdied the second and seventh before holing a bunker shot at the 11th to get within one shot of Hansen.

Sullivan mounted a sensational title defence when he shot a 65 in the group in front to finish on 22 under par.

However, Harrington who showed all his old fighting qualities wasn't to be denied.

Displaying the mesmeric short game skills of old, he rolled back the years as he answered every question posed to him by the field.

After holing that bunker shot at the 11th to get to within one of the lead, he birded the 12th and 14th to get in front and never looked back.

What pleased him most about his win was his mental attitude and he credited coach Dave Alred with the turnaround having read his book, The Pressure Principle: Handle Stress, Harness Energy, and Perform When It Counts, earlier in the week.

"I feel really good," Harrington said. "I was very relaxed all week. I was in a nice place mentally.

"I've been reading Dave Alred's The Pressure Principle and it gave me a few pointers that maybe I'd been missing out on and I stuck to those all week. It was a big plus for me.

"I just realised how poor my own language is about myself and my game. So I was very focused on my self-talk this week and what I was saying to myself and very focused on my posture walking around on the golf course and it was a tremendous help."

On the key to his win, he pointed to the holed bunker shot at the 11th.

"I was doing nicely, but holing the bunker shot on 11 gave me the momentum that it's going to be my day," he said. "There's always something like that happens in the last round - a point where you can take the opportunity or you miss the opportunity."

His dream now is to get back to Augusta National for the Masters having missed it this year.

And having taken just 100 putts for the week, he must now have decided how best to get back into the world's top 50.

Rankings

Up to 43rd from 95th in the Race to Dubai thanks to his €333,330 winner's cheque, Harrington is set to jump from 159th to around 96th in the world rankings and he must now decide between finishing the season in Europe or the US as he chases a return to the world's top 50 and that Masters spot.

"I have to figure out what's my best chance of getting in there," he said, relishing the feeling of a third successive winning season after drawing blanks from 2011-13.

"The Portugal Masters is a big win," he added as Irish voices cheered in the gallery.

"I've always liked coming down to Portugal and with the Irish crowds, it always felt like a home away from home.

"I have three more events now. The question is going to be whether they are on the US tour or European tour."

As for those battling to save their European Tour cards, Greystones' Paul Dunne retained his with ease despite missing the cut, finishing 107th in the Race to Dubai with the top 111 keeping their cards.

England's David Howell was the last man standing at 111th, pipping compatriot Graeme Storm by €100.

Irish Independent

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