Wednesday 24 April 2019

Out of the blue: Harrington ends seven-year famine

World-ranked 297th Harrington delivers stunning second-hole play-off victory to take Honda Classic's $1.1m first prize

Padraig Harrington tees off on the first play-off hole at the Honda Classic at the PGA National Resort & Spa in Florida. Photo: David Cannon/Getty Images
Padraig Harrington tees off on the first play-off hole at the Honda Classic at the PGA National Resort & Spa in Florida. Photo: David Cannon/Getty Images

Karl MacGinty

Victories rarely come any bigger, more exciting or dramatic than Padraig Harrington's heroic breakthrough at The Honda Classic yesterday, with the delighted Dubliner placing it perfectly in context.

"Winning my first PGA Tour event at the Honda in 2005 was big. Winning my first Major at Carnoustie in 2007 was life-changing. But to win this event is career-changing," said Harrington before heading home for Dublin last night and the "party" of a lifetime.

After more than six years in the doldrums and 119 PGA Tour events without a win since the PGA Championship at Oakland Hills in 2008, Harrington blew away all the cobwebs by forcing his way into sudden death and then beating Daniel Berger on the second tie hole.

Think of his stunning recovery to beat Sergio Garcia in extra-time at Carnoustie for the Claret Jug eight years ago and you have some idea of the significance of this win to Ireland's three-times Major champion.

Doghouse

"No doubt," he admitted, "there were low points in those years because, you know, in 2008 and 2009 I was very much in the penthouse. After that, I wasn't quite down to the doghouse but not far away from it.

"Given where I've been at in recent years, to be sitting here as a tournament winner will make a big change to my career, though for the moment I am determined just to enjoy being a winner again," added Harrington, who has won back his place at next month's Masters - a prize almost as big as the $1.098 million cheque he banked.

His prospects of making an impact at Augusta National will not be helped by a tournament schedule which requires him to play all four weeks running up to the first Major of the season.

However, having been granted invitations to play in those tournaments when he most needed them, Harrington now will honour his commitment to play.

This means he'll go into the Masters having played nine events in the previous 10 weeks, the only break coming next weekend … he's not eligible for the Cadillac World Championship at Doral.

After losing his card in the US last winter, Harrington now will be exempt on the world's premier tour until the end of 2017, crucially helping him plan his schedule and boosting his prospects of achieving his primary ambition and playing for Ireland at the 2016 Olympics.

"This win will see me back on top of the pile on Tour, in that I'll be able to get better draws and reshape my schedule, world-ranking-wise and that's a huge lift," explained Harrington, who has leapt 215 places up the global ladder to 82nd. "I've been telling the guys back home the Olympics is a big goal of mine and I would love to be competing in Rio next year and while it is a big ask, this win is a step in that direction."

After leading through 36 holes, Harrington had to fight back from adversity twice in his final round. After his putting touch deserted him, as he stumbled to three-over for his round and four off the pace during the seven holes that he played before darkness intervened on Sunday, he came out fighting yesterday.

A post-round session on the putting green with caddie Ronan Flood and mind-coach Dr Bob Rotella restored his faith in his putter, while a lively meal with Shane Lowry and former Shamrock Rovers star Stephen Grant, now a mini-tour pro in the US, put a smile back on his face.

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