Harrington toils to find Westwood's winning way
LEE WESTWOOD virtually lapped the rest of the 12-man field in the Nedbank Challenge at South Africa's Sun City resort, pocketing a handy $1.25m pre-Christmas bonus and ensuring he would remain on top of the world into the new year.
Life could hardly be any better for the 37-year-old Englishman, who plainly has revelled in the role of world No 1 since taking over from Tiger Woods at the top of the rankings in October.
Westwood is playing with so much confidence it seems only a matter of time before he fills that yawning gap on his curriculum vitae by winning a Major.
Having registered top-three finishes at the US Masters, US Open, British Open and the US PGA over the past three seasons, Westwood has clearly shown he is well capable of mounting a challenge at any of the sport's top championships.
Yet, as world No 1, he seems to have acquired that air of authority, the self- assurance, to permit him to negotiate that yawning gap which separates multiple Major champions from the rest.
While Westwood rides an express lift to the penthouse, Padraig Harrington (39) is engaged in a grim struggle to run back up a descending escalator.
The Dubliner's year ended in a whimper in Sun City yesterday, as he rounded off his final event of 2010 with a lacklustre 75 to finish in a tie for seventh place with defending champion Robert Allenby, 14 strokes behind Westwood.
As a three-time Major winner, Harrington has gone long beyond the point where his performance in an end-of-season jolly like the Nedbank Challenge might have any bearing on his status in the game.
It'd be like judging Jose Carrera or Placido Domingo on their performance in front of the shaving mirror.
Indeed, it's a mystery to many within the game why world-ranking points are awarded at limited field events like the Nedbank or the 18-man Chevron World Challenge in California.
The only true measure of men like Harrington is taken at the Majors and, in that regard, the past 12 months have been an unmitigated disaster for the Irishman, as he missed the cut at the US Masters, Open and US PGA Championships and finished outside the top 20 at the US Open. Indeed, Harrington failed to break par even once in 10 rounds at the Majors in 2010.
With only one victory (at the Asian Tour's Johor Open in October) since winning the 2008 US PGA at Oakland Hills, Harrington can be excused for spending as much if not more time on the practice ground last weekend than on the golf course.
Suffice to say, Harrington turned the lights out on the range on Friday and Saturday evening -- his focus set firmly on the 2011 season and April's US Masters as he beat ball after ball after ball into the gloaming.
Even after taking the Nedbank lead with a first-round 66 last Thursday, the Dubliner warned that his game currently afforded him little more than the prospect of a grim struggle for survival over the ensuing 54 holes.
And so it turned out. A blind man would have had an easier time finding fairways with his white stick than Harrington had with his driver, while he once again found it difficult yesterday to polish off chances with his putter, registering just one birdie in his final 18 holes.
"If this is the worst it's going to get, I'll be a very happy man," Harrington had said on Friday. "I've had one win, the Ryder Cup, plenty of top 10s. It's been an okay year, but it's just frustrating because I have high expectations." Ever the optimist, he went on: "I'm looking forward to doing my winter practice. I'm very optimistic about where my game is going so I'm very happy to finish off this year and do some practice through the winter and get ready for next year."
For sure, the end of 2010 could not come soon enough for Harrington, who plainly has issues to resolve in his swing as he tries to balance his lust for power and distance off the tee with the never-ending requirement for rhythm.
By contrast, Westwood is driven these days by certainty and confidence.
As he recovered from a calf muscle tear sustained in high summer, the Englishman played very little competitive golf in the second half of the season and that freshness showed at Sun City.
Westwood had just one bogey on his card as he coasted into the lead with rounds of 68 and 64 and picked up only three more as he closed out the tournament effortlessly with weekend rounds of 71 and 68.
Tim Clark finished a distant second on nine-under with Retief Goosen and Miguel Angel Jimenez one shot further back in a tie for third.
It wasn't so much a race as a procession and guys like Goosen and Els (who tied fifth with Ross Fisher) could only look on in envy as they recalled the days when winning felt as easy for them as it plainly does right now for Westwood.