Wednesday 20 November 2019

Harrington's Birkdale glory will never fade

Generations of Irish stars had no joy in eight previous stagings of the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale until Padraig made his historic 2008 breakthrough to retain the Claret Jug

Padraig Harrington lifts the Claret Jug after his four-stroke win of the 137th Open Championship in 2008 at Royal Birkdale. Photo: Getty Images
Padraig Harrington lifts the Claret Jug after his four-stroke win of the 137th Open Championship in 2008 at Royal Birkdale. Photo: Getty Images

Liam Kelly

Padraig Harrington became the first Irishman to finally crack the Royal Birkdale code which had defied the best efforts of our top professionals since the Open was first staged at the Southport links course in 1954.

Christy O'Connor Senior came closest to beating Harrington to a Birkdale victory. Senior finished tied-third to Arnold Palmer in 1961, and tied for second place with Brian Huggett in 1965, both of them trailing in the wake of the great Australian Peter Thomson, who claimed his fifth Open title.

Another member of the O'Connor clan, Christy Junior, hit the headlines in 1976 when he shot 69 in the first round, sharing the lead with swashbuckling newcomer Seve Ballesteros, aged 19, and Japan's Norio Suzuki.

A 73 on the Friday took Junior off his pedestal, and though he rallied for a tied-five finish, nobody could stop Johnny Miller, who won the Claret Jug by a margin of six shots from Ballesteros and Jack Nicklaus.

Eamonn Darcy got a tied-five result in the 1991 Open, five shots adrift of champion Ian Baker-Finch. That was the nearest any Irish pro came to a Birkdale victory until Harrington came to Liverpool as the reigning champion in 2008.

Carnoustie in 2007 had been a historic landmark in the annals of Irish golfing history, so what could we expect of Harrington as defending champion?

For a start, he had a wrist injury which reduced his practice to just nine holes and at one stage during the week, Harrington doubted if he could tee it up on the Thursday.

Mentally, he tried to put the 'defending champion' issue in perspective.

Tuesday July 15, 2008: media centre

"I realised going in to this event that however I perform this week has no bearing on the fact that I won in 2007, so I'm not going in here to put in a steady performance to prove anything from 2007 winning the Open.

"I really have to try and distinctly separate this event and play it as any Major, as a new event, and get my preparation right, and try not to be distracted by being the defending champion."

July 17: First round

Strong winds and rain greeted the players and spectators on the first day. Leaders Robert Allenby, Graeme McDowell and Rocco Mediate each shot 69, and were the only players to break par. Harrington got around in four-over 74.

"Seventy-four will be a respectable enough score with 54 holes to go in this tournament. I have to focus on the positive, that there are 54 more holes, that my wrist should be getting better and better," he said

July 18: Second round

Leader: KJ Choi hit 67 for 139 (-1). Greg Norman, aged 53, filed a 70 and had solo second place at 140. Harrington shot 68 for 142 (+2)

"I hope I'll have the task, or the burden, or whatever way you'd like to put it - it's not really a burden - to manage being Open Champion for another year. I've got myself in position for that, two shots behind, and that's exactly where you want to be going in to the weekend."

July 19: Third round

Leader: Greg Norman shot 72 for 212 (+2). Harrington's 72 put him at 214 (+4) on another day of gales that blew away many contenders.

"I'm happy with the score. It could have been a little bit better, but tough conditions. I certainly would have taken that going out there.

"I thought it was probably one of the toughest conditions to putt in that I've ever experienced."

July 20: Final round

Champion: Harrington.

A closing 69 for 283 (+3) meant the Irishman retained his title, leaving Ian Poulter (69) in second place on 287, and Henrik Stenson (71) and Greg Norman (77) tied for third on 289. Harrington really enjoyed the walk down the 18th with caddy Ronan Flood, knowing he led by four shots after an eagle three at the 17th.

"At 17, I hit 5-wood off the tee, hit it really solid. I got 220 (yards), front, 249 pin.

"My caddy said to me, you know, if you want to think of laying it up…

"I asked him the situation. He said, 'you're two ahead'. I knew I could make birdie if I hit 5-wood. It was a real bonus, obviously, to finish three feet away.

"And once it was three feet away, you know, you can't have enough shots in the lead going down 18.

"I proved that last year, so I was making sure to hole that, take my four-shot lead, and it helped me enjoy the last hole.

"Obviously I was cautious. I wanted to get my tee shot away, hit a beautiful 3-wood.

"Once I hit that, I knew I had won the Open."

Irish Independent

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