Thursday, July 26, 2007

Harrington by Default

Now it's clear that Sergio Garcia lost the British Open because he hardly sank a putt of significant length for most of the tournament and certainly not when it counted in the last round. So in the ranks of who fucked up the most, Romero, Harrington or Garcia (or even Els) he loomed large. And he will carry away the biggest nightmare from the whole absorbing event. His final putt on the 18th missed the cup by a whisker and so saved Padraig Harrington from taking the mantle from Jean Van de Velde as the biggest choker in Open history. It also called into question the quality of Harrington's triumph. He won by default - like Paul Lawrie. And yet, and yet.

I watched it in Santa Barbara where the Yanks did their best to fuck up the stone drama of the final few holes by interjecting commercials every 10 minutes - how I longed for the BBC (even that old fogey Peter Allis) - but the drama won through. (Incidentally, the most prevalent ad was for Cialis, a hydraulic aid for men of a certain age, how apposite was that for a golfing audience.)

Harrington was rescued from infamy by Garcia's narrow miss. Here was a man who had come second 31 times in his career. A statistic that suggests a certain lack of intestinal fortitude. However I never bought into that and saw it more as him often coming with a late flourish and gaining a higher placing than his earlier rounds had promised. There's little in Harrington's record to show he chokes.

But then we get to the last few holes of the open. The rookie Romero blows it on the 17th as he should at his age. And it's down to Harrington and Garcia. Harrington is one ahead and has only to par the last to win - nobody birdies the 18th at Carnoustie. And what does he do faced with immortality? He finds the water not once but twice. He Van de Veldes it. At this point he must have felt like disembowelling himself on the 18th fairway, knowing that he had thrown away one of the biggest prizes in golf and his first major. Instead, however, he hits an exquisite wedge to about 10 feet and holes the tricky putt. So he ends up with a 6 when a 7 looked likely. But still he must know it will not be enough. And then we have the pathetic fallacy of his badly managed child running on to the 18th green to hug his deeply traumatised father. To his eternal credit he doesn't cuff the little pup sharply and send him back squealing to his mother but rather gathers him up warmly as if he had just come to the end of a friendly fourball - knowing what tragedy looms. Pure class Padraig.

And then Garcia rescues him from endless ruin and bottomless perdition. First the excellent drive into prime position. Now only a solid shot into the fat of the green to prevail. But a nervous tweak puts it into the bunker. Not bad when greater hazards looom - and Garcia is a master of all irons. The bunker shot is sound rather than brilliant leaving him a very makeable putt for the British Open. Harrington lurks in the scorer's cabin hoping for redemption - but feeling the die is cast. But Garcia's career so far has suggested he will never make a putt like this and sure enough it slides past after flirting with the cup. The 4-hole play off is an anti-climax. Harrington is back from the dead and Garcia has blown his best chance. There can be only one winner. But despite our pleasure at Padraig's triumph you can't help but feel it wasn't won like Faldo won, or Norman won, or Watson won, or the great Nicklaus won (or Player, or the great Peter Thompson). Rather, when faced with the greatest challenge of his career (standing on that 18th tee), he fucked up royally and was rescued by the weaknesses of his opponents. A win by default.