Friday, Apr 20, 2018
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Padraig's play, putting Tiger-like

BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. It came down to brass, to stone-cold putting.

Padraig Harrington was three shots behind with nine holes to play in yesterday's final round of the PGA Championship. But on what may well be the toughest three finishing holes in the annals of major championship golf, Harrington rolled in putts of 20, 10 and 16 feet to win his third major in 13 months.

"How impressive is that?" Ben Curtis said, repeating the question. "It's Tiger-like."

Yes, it is. Harrington went 66-66 on the weekend. Well, that's a bit of a misnomer. The weekend was nine holes before the storms blew through Saturday and 27 holes yesterday.

That's stone cold. Sure, the rains softened the Monster, as Oakland Hills Country Club is known. But the wind whipped all day long as one black cloud after another blocked the sun, and a chilly rain spit and it was not exactly August as we know it in the Midwest.

But the biggest black cloud was the one that blocked yet another bid by Sergio Garcia to claim his first major title. He had a two-shot lead on the back nine and journeyed to those final three holes tied atop the leaderboard with Curtis and one ahead of playing partner Harrington.

The Spaniard made one fatal mistake, not taking the water out of play on No. 16, and maybe got a couple bad breaks, like at the 15th hole where his approach shot hit the flagstick on the fly and instead of diving straight down caromed maybe eight feet to the left.

Then he struck a miserable putt that never breathed on the hole and, well, majors are most often won on the greens. This one also came down to putting and, truth be told, Garcia vs. Harrington did not figure to be a fair fight.

And wasn't. Because Harrington was stone cold. He was steel.

The 16th is where Gary Player hit a 9-iron from 150 yards over a tree that no longer exists and over the pond that very much still exists to set up a two-foot birdie putt that all but clinched the 1972 PGA at Oakland Hills. To this day, it ranks among the sport's legendary shots.

This time, Garcia produced a legendary miss. He was in the center of the fairway and hit a 6-iron from 178 yards, but it drifted over the meat of the pond and the wind knocked it down into the bank and it kicked back into the water. Harrington didn't hit any prettier a shot it landed in the far left greenside bunker 90 feet from the hole but he knew to take the water out of play. He blasted 20 feet past the hole and then rammed it dead center to save par. Garcia bogeyed.

On the next hole, Harrington hit a marvelous tee shot to 10 feet and Garcia did him one better, his ball stopping just four feet from the pin. The Irishman hit his putt perfectly.

Garcia started his maybe one-half inch too far to the left and it lipped out.

The 18th hole wasn't pretty, just gutsy. Harrington fluffed a fairway bunker shot and his third shot on the par-4 hole was a full 7-iron from 142 yards that landed pin high, 16 feet to the right of the hole. You care to guess where the putt ended up?

Harrington won his second straight major and became only the fourth golfer in history to go back-to-back at the British Open and PGA.

He said this one was totally unlike the last.

"I was very comfortable with my game at [Royal] Birkdale," Harrington said. "I was very happy with what I was doing. Here, that wasn't the case."

In fact, after Friday's second round, at which point he was tied for 26th after opening with cards of 71-74, he said he was disgusted with his game and focus and all but counted himself out. The only positive, he said, was that he'd be around to play the weekend.

And did he ever.

"Something had me a little bit off my stride this week," Harrington said. "My coordination wasn't quite there. But once I got to the weekend and holed a few putts, it really was a question of the adrenaline keeping me going, keeping me focused, pushing me along."

It pushed him to where no European had gone for 78 years.

When this tournament started last Thursday the field included the tall, silver-haired Tommy Armour III. In 1930, his grandfather, Tommy Armour, won the PGA back in its match-play days, topping Gene Sarazen 1-up in the finals.

Incredibly, almost inexplicably, no European had won it since. Harrington ended that long, long drought and also became the first Euro ever we repeat, ever to win consecutive major championships in the same year.

"It's going to take time for all of that to sink in," he said. "Obviously I hold a lot of European players, some I grew up watching, in such high esteem. To believe that I achieved something that they hadn't is very special."

Very special, indeed. Tiger-like, said runner-up Curtis, and that is about as special as it gets.

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