The incredible return to the winner’s circle for Honda Classic champion Padraig Harrington is one of the most remarkable of late given how far he'd fallen
Step back six or seven years and Padraig Harrington was winning Majors seemingly at will and reigning high in golf’s world pecking order. But the 2008 USPGA Championship remains the 43-year-old Irishman’s last victory on either of the world’s two main tours, with his last non-Major victories on either tour the 2007 Irish Open in Europe and the 2005 Barclays Classic in America.
Last year, Harrington recorded a solitary top 10 in Europe in the season-opening limited field Volvo Champions where he finished 5th, while his best finish in America was 22nd in the Byron Nelson Championship in May. Harrington finished 97th on the Race to Dubai – his lowest ranking in 20 years on tour. He also finished a lowly 188th in the FedEx standings, with his last top 10 on the PGA Tour coming in the FedEx St Jude Classic in June 2013.
This year, he had only three missed cuts and a T56th at Riviera to show for his efforts, so it was a huge surprise to see his name atop the Honda Classic at the halfway stage. He then hung in there in round three to stay in the hunt, but when play was called in the delayed final round last night, he had drifted to three-over for the day after seven holes and was four adrift of English duo Ian Poulter and Paul Casey. Nice try, we all thought, but you just can’t hope to keep it going when you’ve not been there for so long!
Wrong on two counts – firstly, because in a remarkable finish to regulation play, while Poulter went into watery meltdown and Casey couldn’t buy a birdie, Harrington reeled off four in a row from the 11th to lead once more, seemingly threw it away again with a watery double on 17, then dug deep once more to roll a 16-foot birdie putt in dead centre on the last to force a play-off with relatively unknown American, Daniel Berger. And secondly, because it has actually been just three months since he had last tasted victory, having claimed the Indonesian Open on the Asian Tour – where he also claimed the Johor Open in 2010 – by two shots three weeks before Christmas.
That win had helped get him back to 260th in the world, and he had managed to just hold on to a top 300 slot since then despite those poor early-season showings in the States. After his win in Indonesia, Harrington uttered these now prophetic words for the season ahead: “This win brings a lot of confidence to my game and hopefully it will show up next year.” Indeed it has, with whoever is world number 297 after this week’s results looking forward to next week with renewed optimism, for it was the second week in a row that the 297th ranked player has won in the States, with Riviera winner, James Hahn, occupying that same position prior to his victory last week.
Hahn climbed 211 places to 86th after his win, and Harrington has gone four better, climbing to 82nd in the updated rankings after this incredible comeback triumph.
Hands up if, like us, you suspected that the triple Major champion might have been gone for good after the last few years? We may all have done, but Padraig clearly didn’t, as evidenced by this interview he gave us back in early 2013 just before the season-opening Volvo Champions. It seems he knew what he was talking about!