HAVING plummeted as low as 375th, Padraig Harrington is back in the world’s top 100 after recording his first PGA Tour win since 2008.
Ten years after claiming victory in the same event, the 43-year-old Irishman beat American rookie Daniel Berger at the second hole in a sudden-death play-off to win the Honda Classic at Palm Beach Gardens in Florida.
It was the sixth PGA Tour triumph of Harrington’s career but first since securing the last of his three major titles in the 2008 US PGA Championship at Oakland Hills in Detroit.
Despite working as hard as ever and becoming eccentric at times with some of his methods on the practice range, the Dubliner’s only other success in the interim had come in the Indonesia Open last December.
“Hopefully this isn’t an isolated win,” said Harrington as he celebrated jumping from 297th to 82nd in the world rankings as well as securing a return to The Masters after missing the season’s opening major last year for the first time since 1999. “I really do believe in myself. I think I’ve found that mental edge that I’ve been lacking the last number of years. Hopefully I’ll be able to stick with that going forward and be consistently contending because I know if I am contending I can win.”
In a final round that saw the lead change no less than 11 times, Harrington birdied four holes in a row from the 11th at PGA National to storm into contention. After hitting his tee shot at the 17th into the water to run up a double-bogey 5, he then showed nerves of steel to roll in a 15-foot birdie putt at the last for a closing 70 and match Berger’s six-under-par total after the 21-year-old local hero had set the clubhouse target following a last-round 64.
Pipped in a play-off in the same tournament 12 months ago, Scot Russell Knox missed out on the shoot-out by the narrowest of margins this time around.
He finished birdie-birdie for a 68 to share third spot on five-under with English duo Paul Casey and Ian Poulter, who was on course for victory until hitting three balls into the water in dropping five shots in the space of four holes.
“It’s bitterly disappointing,” said the Ryder Cup star as he licked his wounds after a closing 74. “It’s a shame to hand tournaments away. You don’t mind being beaten fair and square. I handed one away.”
That may well have been the case but, at the same time, it was terrific surge by Harrington that took him into contention before he showed nerves of steel to close with a birdie after his untimely setback at the 71st hole.
In the play-off, it was Berger who found a watery grave at the same hole, though only after Harrington had piled on the pressure by hitting a majestic tee shot to around three feet.
“When I get in contention I can hit the shots,” said the winner. “The problem has been actually when I’m starting the week, middle of the road shots, easy shots, I’m just not hitting them. When I’ve got tough shots I can hit them.”
Knox is up to 22nd in the FedEx Cup after a second top-five finish of the season, while Stephen Gallacher, on his first PGA Tour start this year, closed with a 72 to end up joint-41st on four-over.
Elsewhere, Thornhill’s Greig Marchbank heads into the match-play phase of the South African Amateur Championship as the No 1 seed after beating home player Tristen Strydom at the second extra hole in a play-off at Silver Lakes in Pretoria.
Marchbank, who finished on six-under, was joined among the qualifiers by Daniel Young (Craigie Hill), Ewen Ferguson (Bearsden), Craig Ross (Kirkhill), Callum Fyfe (Cawder) and Connor Syme (Drumoig) and Scott Gibson (Southerness).
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND MOBILE APPS