Thursday 22 June 2017

Padraig's team effort pays off

Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

REDEMPTION day in the singles for Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Miguel Angel Jimenez, but no individual joy for Padraig Harrington.

There's no 'I' in 'Team' of course, but it has to be said that Graeme McDowell's role as the latest Irishman to clinch a win in the Ryder Cup for Europe saved Harrington and Colin Montgomerie from doom-laden inquests.

Harrington wasn't the only big name under pressure in yesterday's closing singles.

Mickelson, the man with the worst record of losses in US Ryder Cup history, finished on a high note by defeating Peter Hanson 4&2.

Woods also came good on the course with a 4&3 verdict over Francesco Molinari.

And Jimenez, veteran of four Ryder Cups, actually won a singles match for the first time.

So where was Harrington? Struggling from behind for most of his match with Zach Johnson before eventually losing by 3&2.

A late rally, during which he won two holes as Johnson missed a couple of match-winning putts, made Harrington's result slightly better than he deserved.

The verdict could have been 6&5, or 5&4 if Johnson had closed the deal when he had winning opportunities.

This has been a poor Ryder Cup for controversial captain's pick Harrington.

In soccer parlance, Harrington has played Championship-level golf in the Premier League and over the last four days of interrupted play, he has looked a pale shadow of his 2008 double Major-winning self.

He did gain two points in partnership with Ross Fisher, and lost one with Luke Donald, but the singles would decide for many if he justified a pick from captain Colin Montgomerie.

When he was selected, a large section of the international media were not sympathetic to the Dubliner as he displaced the in-form Paul Casey. It was hard to argue with those sentiments.

Montgomerie had to be looking at Harrington's three Majors, his experience and the solid presence he would bring to the team room.

Monty said as much on Sunday night: "I have to say, Padraig was under pressure. He lost his first match. He was under pressure here, no question.

"You (the media) had given him a hard time. Not his problem, and not his issue, but he's been given a hard time by being selected here. Hopefully he'll realise now why he was selected.

"There's been method in why I selected Padraig Harrington for this team.

"He spoke brilliantly last night in the team room. He's been brilliant off the course, and he's been brilliant on it," added Monty.

In fairness, nobody can put pressure on Harrington -- he does that himself as he strives for greater levels of personal achievement and performance.

That said, Harrington looked the part of a man under pressure on day one, in the opening fourballs playing alongside Donald.

He showed his deep intensity to the extent that, after carving his drive into the rough, he played his second before the first green was cleared and hit it through the green. An amazing error from a top professional.

There was more to come, as when the session eventually finished on Saturday, he had managed to get through the 3&2 defeat without notching up one birdie.

Monty teamed him with Ross Fisher for foursomes and it went better, with the Fisher-Harrington combo winning 3&2 against Mickelson and Dustin Johnson.

The third outing, in fourballs alongside Fisher against Johnson and Furyk also went well, with a victory by 2&1 for the Europeans.

This time Harrington contributed two birdies on the front nine.

He didn't get a single birdie on the back nine, and but did a great job in lining up Fisher for crucial putts as they gained an important point.

Yesterday, the Dubliner looked poised for action against Zach Johnson as he entered the first tee area to thunderous cheers and roars of encouragement.

He started nicely by nailing his drive down the fairway, finishing 30 yards ahead of Johnson.

After that, it was the mixture of the bad, good, ugly, and scrappy that has characterised his performances this week.

Bunkered in two on the first, he ended up with a bogey and conceded a birdie to Johnson who was safely on to six feet in two.

On hole two, the 558-yards par-five, the military golf came in.

Left into rough off the drive, right with a rescue across the fairway onto a hanging lie just above a fairway bunker.

"Just 133 to go, a smooth eight-iron," was the suggestion of caddie Ronan Flood. "Are you happy with that?"

"Yes," from Harrington. And then he played a lovely shot but it landed 40 feet from the pin, from where he three-putted.

Another concession to Johnson and two down, with the American happy to stand idly by and take his two-up lead.

Then the Major champion in Harrington came out to play on the 189-yards par-three, third hole where he cracked a lovely six-iron to seven feet and holed for a winning birdie. One down.

All square after five when Harrington scored his fourth personal birdie of the event to win the hole.

Bully

From then on, Johnson became the biggest bully in that particular schoolyard and beat up on Harrington.

The Dubliner was three down after nine, four down after 11, five down after 13, and got back to four when Johnson bogeyed 14.

And then the Major champion's heart showed up again, as Harrington bravely got up and down to hole a 15-footer on the 15th.

Three down with three to play. A bridge too far? Yes.

Back came the wild drive on the 16th, hitting a spectator.

The Dubliner was on the back foot then, and though he forced Johnson to hole a 20-footer for a winning par on the hole, it was game over.

His singles Ryder Cup record now is three wins ('99 v Mark O'Meara, '02 v Mark Calcavecchia, and '04 v Jay Haas), and three losses ('06 v Scott Verplank, '08 v Chad Campbell, and 2010 v Zach Johnson.

A crisis? Not at all. He has finished on a winning European team for the fourth time and if Harrington's career ended today, he would still go down as Ireland's greatest golfer.

The fact is, the 39-year-old star has raised his own standards so high that these big international occasions are the ones in which champions such as Harrington are expected to shine.

Irish Independent

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