Criticism shows Tigers deep respect for Harrington

By Doug FergusonAugust 10, 2009, 4:00 pm
2009 PGA ChampionshipCHASKA, Minn. ' Tiger Woods didnt take much time to celebrate his 70th career victory on the PGA Tour, and not just because he was on Hazeltine National at dawn Monday to get ready for the PGA Championship.
 
Woods, so careful to avoid controversy throughout his career, stepped out of character after winning the Bridgestone Invitational.
 
One question into his interview, he shifted attention away from his late heroics at Firestone ' an 8-iron from 178 yards over the water that stopped a foot from the hole for birdie ' by blaming the anticlimactic finish on a rules official.
 
Woods was perturbed that he and Padraig Harrington were put on the clock at the pivotal 16th hole Sunday, and suggested that Harrington was rushed into three poor shots that led to triple bogey. What had been one of the most compelling duels of the year gave way to another inevitable Woods victory.
 
Not only did Woods identify the rules official ' European Tour chief referee John Paramor ' he later shared with the media what he told Harrington on the 18th green.
 
Like I was telling him out there, Im sorry that John got in the way of a great battle, because it was such a great battle for 16 holes, and were going at it head-to-head, and unfortunately that happened.
 
Paramor and Slugger White, the PGA Tour rules official in charge at Firestone, defended the decision as simply enforcing a policy.
 
Woods will be fined for his public criticism of a rules official, one PGA Tour official said Monday, speaking on condition of anonymity because the Tour does not announce fines.
 
There were arguments for both sides.
 
The final round ended right about 6 p.m., enough time for CBS Sports to do a quick interview with the winner. Was it really necessary to put them on the clock?
 
Rules are rules, however, and even Harrington pointed out that it would be unfair for the final two players ' no matter what was stake or how tough the conditions ' to be treated differently than the groups ahead of them. The final pairing was 17 minutes behind schedule when they were put on the clock.
 
Hidden beneath the debate was the deep respect Woods has for Harrington.
 
Woods chose not to comment Monday when asked if he would have been so quick to criticize the rules official had his opponent been someone other than Harrington.
 
But he spent some 10 minutes in the parking lot at Hazeltine discussing why he holds the Irishman in such high esteem. And he did not disagree when presented this notion: Of all the players against whom he has competed over the last dozen years, few ' if any ' have made Woods feel as though he were playing against himself.
 
Harrington does that.
 
Their record is nothing alike; neither is their game nor their swing. Neither likes to chat much inside the ropes. They dont even win the same way. And while Woods admires Harrington, they hardly spoke to each other during the final round.
 
What impresses Woods is how Harrington stops at nothing to get everything out of his game. He feels the same way about Jim Furyk and Vijay Singh.
 
Years ago at his year-end charity event in California, Woods was bemused to see Harrington walking to the practice range wearing a short-sleeve shirt in chilly evening weather to hit balls until dark. This was only a few weeks before Christmas.
 
Ive seen him miss cuts and hes out there all weekend, Woods said.
 
Harrington, who won two majors last year and ended Woods four-year run as PGA Tour player of the year, essentially abandoned most of the 2009 season in search of what he felt was the correct position at impact. He had tried a few other years, given up, and was determined this time to keep going until he found it.
 
In the meantime, he missed five straight cuts and didnt have a top 10 for six months. The media began to question why a three-time major champion would change his swing. Harrington plugged away, feeling as though he only had to answer to himself.
 
Woods knows the feeling.
 
He changed his swing after winning the 1997 Masters with a record score, and won only one PGA Tour event the next year. He revamped his swing again under Hank Haney and won only one time in 2004. In his most recent stretch dating to 2006, Woods has won 23 of his last 45 tournaments worldwide.
 
An hour or so after Woods left, Harrington sat in a rocking chair outside the clubhouse at Hazeltine, chatting on his cell phone with a smile. He figured it would be a tough night of sleep after coming so close to taking down Woods for the second time in three years while playing against him in the final pairing.
 
The Irishman went from a three-shot lead to a two-shot deficit after the front nine. While most players cave at this juncture, Harrington kept plodding along and regained the lead with three holes to play.
 
Then came the stopwatch, three bad shots, a triple bogey, tournament over.
 
Few players find perspective more quickly than Harrington. He has felt inferior to other players since his amateur days, and it has only made him work harder. Harrington once had a stretch of 24 runner-up finishes over 10 years on the European Tour.
 
Ill probably be a better player because of it, Harrington said. So thats a good thing. You learn from these things.
 
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