Story 3 - Irish Eyes Are Smiling

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Top 10 StoriesIn signature self-effacing style, Padraig Harrington jokingly reasoned last week that hed won the PGA Tours Player of the Year Award by a single vote. There is no way of knowing the Irishmans margin of victory since the Tour protects election results like Tiger Woods safeguards 54-hole leads.
 
But the fact the tally took place in Florida, the undisputed home of the hanging chad, likely didnt sit well with the canvassing board. Thankfully, less than 24 hours later, Harringtons primary challenger in the player of the year polls put the matter to rest with a dismissive, if not decisive, wave of the metaphorical white flag.
 
Padraig Harrington
Padraig Harrington kisses the Wanamaker Trophy at Oakland Hills. (Getty Images)
He won two (majors), Woods said.
 
The man who keeps time with Grand Slam glory dismissed his four titles in six starts and one of the greatest one-legged exhibitions in the history of the game and recognized the merits of simple math. Two of kind ' at least the major championship kind ' beats a royal finish at any table.
 
But it wasnt the view from the top so much as the climb that amazed Harringtons long-time sports psychologist Dr. Bob Rotella five months earlier from his perch atop a windswept English dune.
 
Hes been getting ready for this for a long time, Rotella said as Harrington celebrated his second British Open title in 12 months. There is a difference between swing confidence and self confidence. All of these guys have the swing, but its taken him some time to get to where he is now mentally. He has such clarity, so much peace over shots.
 
In practice, Harrington put that clarity to the test to produce two of the years most clutch haymakers.
 
At Royal Birkdale, Harrington began the final round trailing Greg Norman by two strokes. By the time he stepped to the exposed 17th tee hed forged a two-stroke cushion. There would be no Carnoustie calamity this time.
 
From the middle of the fairway Harringtons caddie Ronan Flood asked his boss if he wanted to lay up. The answer was a walk-off 5-wood to three feet for eagle and a long overdue stroll up the 18th fairway, claret jug firmly back in his hands.
 
You can't have enough shots in the lead going down 18. I proved that last year, Harrington said. It helped me enjoy the last hole.
 
Less than a month later Harrington delivered the sequel, a 5-iron bullet to 10 feet at the 71st hole of the PGA Championship that sank Sergio Garcias major championship hopes for the second time in six Grand Slam gatherings.
 
Harrington became the first European to win the Wanamaker Trophy since Tommy Armour in 1930, and the first to win back-to-back majors.
 
With the games top card doing time on a stationary bike in central Florida, Harrington effortlessly filled the void of alpha male. It was a lofty prospect that seemed pure fantasy as recently as 2005.
 
Prior to Harringtons breakthrough U.S. victory at the 05 Honda Classic, he was viewed largely as a good player with a good heart but hardly a world-beater or a serviceable stand-in for the worlds No. 1. He followed that victory with another at the Barclays Classic and his 2007 British Open bout with Garcia proved he had the game and mental toughness to beat the worlds best, and a beastly finish.
 
While Carnoustie may have been the culmination of all that hard work, Harringtons ultimate Grand Slam epiphany came at the 2006 U.S. Open where he finished two shots behind eventual winner Geoff Ogilvy after a messy bogey-bogey-bogey finish.
 
I walked off the 18th hole (at Winged Foot) . . . and said to Bob Rotella, Now I know Ill win a major, Harrington said. Yes, I lost. I was one of the losers at Winged Foot . . . But I walked away from that tournament knowing I could win a major.
 
And 2008, a career calendar that inexplicably ended in pedestrian fashion when Harrington played his way out of the Tour Championship in the playoffs, proved he had evolved into much more than simply a good player with a good heart.
 
That Player of the Year trinket ' whether it was won by a single vote or a landslide ' was simply a cherished nod from the electorate.
 
It is an individual game when we're out there competing, but you do want and crave the respect of your fellow pros, Harrington said. It compares equally to winning a major championship. I can't believe I can actually say something can compare to going out there and winning a major championship, but this accolade, no doubt in my mind is right up there.
 
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