x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Harrington's untimely stumble

Overzealous officiating costs the Irishman, but after capitalising on his rival's triple bogey, Tiger Woods says he feels good about a 15th major.

Padraig Harrington, left, and Tiger Woods line up their putts on the 12th hole during the final round of the Bridgestone World Golf Championship on Sunday at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio.
Padraig Harrington, left, and Tiger Woods line up their putts on the 12th hole during the final round of the Bridgestone World Golf Championship on Sunday at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio.

Padraig Harrington was yesterday licking his wounds after joining a lengthy list of golfers who have crumbled under the pressure of going head to head with the formidable Tiger Woods down the closing stretch of a big tournament. The genial Irishman was far from disgraced, however, in succumbing to the world No 1 in a thrilling conclusion to the Bridgestone World Golf Championship in Ohio.

Harrington is too much of a gentleman to complain about insensitive officiating which was a contributory factor to his handing the prestigious tournament to Woods on the 16th green of an epic Firestone confrontation. Trading shot for shot in a heavyweight battle for one of the key titles of the golfing year, Harrington and Woods had fallen behind the rest of the field as they turned for home and were put "on the clock" by the notoriously uncompromising John Paramor, chief referee of the European Tour. With the possibility - albeit a remote one - of a one-stroke penalty occupying his thoughts, Harrington felt hurried as the moment of reckoning arrived with Woods waiting to tap in a birdie putt - the rich and decisive reward from a brilliant eight iron from 178 yards which finished only inches from the hole.

Leading Woods by one stroke as they approached that 16th green, Harrington found his third to the par five embedded in deep rough behind the pin and ended up taking the next five shots without reply to incur a disastrous triple bogey eight before Woods secured his "gimme" four. An astonishing four-stroke swing between what had been evenly-matched rivals allowed Woods to stroll down the remaining two holes and claim the 70th victory of his fabulous career, moving him to within three titles of Jack Nicklaus and 12 away from the legendary Sam Snead's all-time record.

His seventh Firestone triumph, rounded off by a five-under-par 65 under enormous pressure, puts Woods in tremendous heart for the final major of the year - the US PGA championship which begins at Hazeltine, Minnesota on Thursday when he seeks to bridge an irritating 17-month gap between his 14th and 15th major titles. Much of that time has, of course, been spent in rehabilitation from knee surgery, but Woods has competed in all three majors so far this year and gone into all of them on the back of a heartening tour win, only to come up frustratingly short in the big ones. Indeed, he suffered the ignominy of failing to make the cut at last month's British Open at which Harrington was aiming to lift Claret Jug for the third time in a row.

Harrington cannot be described as an outsider, however, when he defends the PGA title he captured so impressively at Oakland Hills 12 months ago. Events of the last few days when he led for most of the tournament have re-ignited his chances of repeating his Open back-to-back triumphs. An elated Woods paid tribute to Harrington's performance and, unlike Harrington, he criticised referee Paramor for "getting in the way of a great battle".

Harrington was philosophical afterwards about the untimely disruption "It certainly knocked me out of my comfort zone, but there are rules," he said after finishing joint runner-up with Robert Allenby four shots behind Tiger. Harrington will play alongside Woods again for the first two rounds of the PGA. If the Irishman, who has spent must of the last year suffering from unproductive modifications to his swing, can build on the momentum he gained at Firestone, there is no reason why they cannot resume their rivalry in the final group again next Sunday.

Woods warned those standing in the way of his 15th major, saying: "I feel good about what I'm doing at the moment. I've got three days to solidify it and get ready for Thursday." wjohnson@thenational.ae