Man, but he put us through the ringer to get there. Sunday afternoon was one of the longest, most gruelling, most tense and exciting imaginable and that was just for us slobs in front of our televisions. The effect it all had on the man himself was painted in the clearest colors immediately after he walked off the final green ? his 76th of the week ? and into the unforgiving glare of the BBC cameras. He stood in front of us as a man bewildered, his voice short, his throat catching and he told the world that if he hadn?t won the play-off, his nightmare six on the final hole could have led to him giving up the game forever. Said in the heat of the moment, for sure, but it carried a ring of truth nonetheless. ?I don?t know what I?d think about playing golf again if I?d lost it,? he said later in Sunday night. ?It would have been hard to take.?
That it would. As it was, the final day itself was no picnic. Everything in sport differs from everything else and each event has its own little selling point to grab the attention, but few experiences compare with the drawn-out excitement of a close back nine on the Sunday of one of golf?s majors. At various stages, you could have taken your chances with any one of five, possibly even seven different players. In the end, it came down to two and we needed extra holes to separate them. Like Tarantino says, we?ll sell you these seats but you?re only going to be using the edge of them?
It shouldn?t have been this way, of course. With the three-day leader starting the afternoon six shots clear, this should have been anything but close. That three-day leader was Sergio Garcia, though, and if there was one player you wouldn?t have put your house on closing it out, sadly Garcia would be it. Long saddled with a reputation for not being the man to have your money on come Sunday, this looked like it would finally be Garcia?s chance to dump that reputation into the sea off Scotland?s east coast. Not so. Garcia had the horrible misfortune to wobble slightly coming near the end of his front nine, dropping three shots in four holes at precisely the time Harrington chose to bolt from the field. At one stage, the Dubliner made up five shots on the Spaniard in the space of three-quarters of an hour.
They nipped and they tucked away at each other down the stretch, with the lead jitterbugging between them all the while. At one stage, the unheralded Argentine Andres Romero came storming to the top of the leaderboard and found himself somehow two shots clear standing on the 16th tee. Like Wile E Coyote running off a cliff, however, he chose the wrong moment to look down and promptly dropped three shots over the final two holes to plummet to the bottom of the ravine.
Which left Garcia and Harrington. Oh, and Carnoustie. Because the course was as much a character in the drama as any of the players. What had been such a mean-spirited shambles back in 1999 when a greenskeeper with a grudge decided to make himself the star of the show was now a delight with as tough and fair a closing stretch as you could want. It?s closing holes were what made this British Open the most compelling for years.
When Harrington stood on the 18th tee, he knew he only had to make a par and the Claret Jug was his. He took six, twice dumping shots in the water. When it was Garcia?s turn, a half an hour later or so, he knew also that a par meant the championship was heading to Spain. He took five, including a 10-foot putt that looked for all the world like it was in three inches short of the hole before deviating just a fraction and missing. And so it went to four extra holes which Harrington completed in a single shot fewer than his Ryder Cup teammate to become only the second ever Irish winner of a major, 60 years after Fred Daly became the first. Cue ?The Fields Of Athenry? ringing around the grandstands of Carnoustie.
?You know,? Harrington said afterwards, ?the only reason I turned pro was that I went to college and I was 21 and the guys I was able to beat as an amateur were turning pro. It wasn?t because I thought I was good enough. I thought I would have a great life and if I did well I?d make a comfortable living on the tour. I thought I?d have a couple of years to learn the ropes but I started so well that I kept my head down and ran with it. It?s been a long road and I don?t know if I ever believed I was going to do it, but I tried to convince myself. Especially this week.?
In a week when Nick Faldo questioned whether or not the European players were too chummy with each other to scramble to the top of the pile in a major, Harrington played the nice guy who finished first to a tee.
O?Driscoll spared the agony
One quick yarn to go along with Harrington?s win. Brian O?Driscoll spent Sunday doing a photoshoot for one of his sponsors and had resolved to go the whole day without getting updates from the golf so that he could sit down in the evening and watch the highlights in peace. He ignored text after text and phone message after phone message and had managed to reach the evening blissfully unaware of what had gone on. Just before he sat down in front of his TV, he nipped out to the local grocery store for milk or some such to be greeted by a nice old lady behind the counter.
?Isn?t it great to see P_draig Harrington winning the golf?? she said.