Saturday 24 February 2018

Pádraig proves he's a straight shooter on Sergio

Harrington didn’t sugar-coat the truth on Garcia, writes Brian Keogh

Masters champion Sergio Garcia and three-time Major winner Pádraig Harrington Picture: AP Photo/Carlos Osorio
Masters champion Sergio Garcia and three-time Major winner Pádraig Harrington Picture: AP Photo/Carlos Osorio

Brian Keogh

Pádraig Harrington's devastatingly honest assessment of Masters champion Sergio García as "a very sore loser" will be criticised as undiplomatic and poorly timed.

But even in Spain, where Harrington is unlikely to win any popularity contests, the Dubliner's admission that he was "very happy" for the Spaniard in his moment of triumph has been interpreted by at least one media outlet as a symbolic burying of the hatchet.

Others saw Harrington as simply burying the hatchet in Garcia's skull and as a potential future Ryder Cup captain, he might have saved himself some grief further down the line by playing the diplomatic card.

That he didn't speaks volumes.

When asked for his views on the 37-year-old Spaniard's long-overdue major breakthrough and on a turbulent relationship that has been strained since he inadvertently questioned the honour of José María Olazábal during the 2003 Seve Trophy in Spain, he could not sugar-coat the truth.

Just as Rory McIlroy is lauded for his honesty when he expresses unpopular views on Olympic golf or his decision to play with US President Donald Trump, Harrington must surely earn a pass this time.

Speaking to 2fm's 'Game On' on Monday night, the 45-year-old was asked to explain the exact nature of his poor relationship with García, having only gone as far as saying that the Spaniard "is the antithesis of me" in a 2008 interview.

"It's very simple," Harrington said. "Myself and Sergio have been on tour as long as each other. We would have been the opposite. His is a very flamboyant game, everything comes easy. There were periods he never practised. We were such opposites. I worked at it, grinded it out. Got the best out of it.

"I'm very strong on the etiquette of the game, so I don't tolerate people spitting in the hole, throwing their shoes or throwing golf clubs. That would be my attitude. And it would be quite clear where I came from.

"Then we went into the majors and I obviously beat him at the majors and I gave him every out I possibly could. I gave him every out I possibly could have at the 2007 Open.

"I was as polite as I could be and was as generous as I could be, but he was a very sore loser. And he continued to be a very sore loser.

"So clearly, we have had a very sticky wicket after that. The Ryder Cup improved it after that, but we say hello to each other every day and it is through gritted teeth, there is no doubt about it.

"I know he is watching what I am doing and I am watching what he is doing. It is one of those things. He's a rival."

The antipathy is mutual and dates to the 2003 Seve Trophy when García's idol, Olazábal, set about repairing a couple of marks on the line of his putt in his match with Harrington that the Dubliner was unsure he should have touched at all.

Were they pitch marks or spike marks? As Olazábal tapped them down, Harrington gesticulated in the direction of a distant referee. The upshot was that Olazábal conceded the hole, incensed that he had effectively been accused of cheating. "I fully believe," Harrington said at the time, "that he thought they were pitch marks. I wasn't clear, I was 50-50, so it is possible he was 100pc right."

García, who also played that week at El Saler, took umbrage.

And when Harrington needed one of Olazábal's Ryder Cup wildcards in 2012, García suggested that the captain would do the best thing for the team, then added, acidly, "I don't think he's a sure pick, personally. He wouldn't be a sure pick for me!"

The bad blood was obvious when Harrington denied a particularly fidgety García the major he craved after a four-hole aggregate play-off for the 2007 Open Championship at Carnoustie and then did it again in a final round duel for the 2008 US PGA at Oakland Hills.

But Harrington should also get credit for conceding that, as a fellow sportsman, he was pleased to see Garcia's emotional reaction after his Masters-winning birdie on Sunday.

"The genuine emotion and the thrill of winning, I could see that as a competitor and appreciate that," Harrington said. "I was very happy for him, no doubt about it… in that moment."

Irish Independent

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