Padraig Harrington Wins Back-to-Back Opens, Thanks To Sergio Garcia

Andrew BarrySenior Analyst IJuly 26, 2008

Padraig Harrington has two British Open titles, and it all started with a miss.

But it wasn't his. The morning after he defended his title at Royal Birkdale, the Irishman already was looking ahead. He now is in the same company as Greg Norman, Curtis Strange, Ben Crenshaw, Dave Stockton and others who have won the same major twice.

Next on his list is winning a third major, perhaps one in America.

But imagine where he would be if Sergio Garcia had made that 10-foot par putt last year at the British Open.

What everyone remembers from Carnoustie is Harrington draped in an Irish flag and carrying his son Patrick, who wanted to fill the silver claret jug with ladybirds.

Forgotten after his playoff victory was a collapse that would have ranked with anything Norman ever did and, by Harrington's admission, might have ruined his career.

Harrington had a one-shot lead on the 18th when he hit his tee shot into Barry Burn. Then he chunked a 5-iron for his third shot that tumbled into the burn again. His greatest shot was a 5-foot putt for double bogey.

All that spared him a crushing defeat was Garcia, whose par putt to win the British Open looked good until the final inch.

"If Sergio parred the last and I did lose, I think I would have struggled to come back out and be a competitive golfer," Harrington said that day. "To take a 6 down the last, it would have hit me very hard. I think I would have struggled in the future."

Harrington had an old friend at his side—the claret jug—when he was reminded Monday of his good fortunes.

It brought back memories not only of Carnoustie, but also of the final round at Royal Birkdale. Harrington twice was on the verge of bogey until a beautiful pitch from 30 yards to within inches on the first hole, and a 15-foot putt to save par on the third.

Every shot he made, Norman missed.

"I'm realistic enough to believe that the twin impostors of success and failure are always a hair's breadth away," Harrington said Monday. "The difference of that putt (by Garcia) going in and not going in—and the consequences of that—are amazing, and no more so than in that one second."

He recognized that if Norman had saved par from a pot bunker on the opening hole and Harrington couldn't get up-and-down from short the green, the Shark would have had a three-shot lead and loads of momentum.

No one will ever know.

"But in Sergio's case," Harrington continued, "we do have an answer. If his putt did drop, he would have won the Open. But the fact is it didn't drop, and I ultimately won the Open."

Perhaps it was only fitting that Harrington played the final round with Norman, who at age 53 gave himself yet another chance to win a major and set himself up for more failure.

Of the majors Norman squandered, the most memorable were his 4-iron over the 18th green at the 1986 Masters for a bogey that paved the way for Jack Nicklaus to win a sixth green jacket; his 78 in the final round of the PGA Championship that same year at Inverness, where Bob Tway holed a bunker shot for birdie on the final hole; and the 1996 Masters, when he led by six and lost by five.

How might it have been different for Norman?

One of the most underrated players of his generation was Scott Hoch. How might his career have changed had he made that 30-inch par putt to beat Nick Faldo in a playoff at the 1989 Masters?

What about Doug Sanders blowing a three-foot putt to win at St. Andrews in 1970?

Colin Montgomerie, the best player alive without a major, could have picked one up at Congressional in 1997 at the U.S. Open if not for freezing over that five-foot par putt on the 17th hole. One can only imagine how that might have helped him at Winged Foot two years ago, when he chunked a 7-iron from the 18th fairway.

"You have to look at it like this," Harrington said. "It's about averages. You get yourself in position enough times, it will fall on the right side of you some of the times, and the wrong side some of the times. The key is to get into position.

"I've played great in tournaments and through no fault of my own finished second," he added, "and I've seen where I messed up and finished second.

"If you keep getting in position, one day you'll hole a 10-footer to get into the playoff, and the next day you won't," he said. "You can't control all the breaks."

Garcia, meanwhile, was the betting favourite at Royal Birkdale this year. He was seven shots behind going into the final round, shot 44 on the back nine and was never a serious factor.

He began the week with a lively press conference, which included one question about Carnoustie. As good as Garcia struck that putt, how much different would his life have been over the past 12 months if that fraction of an inch had gone in his favour?

"I don't know," Garcia said. "I will never know."