SOUTHAMPTON, Bermuda – Slow and deliberate that it is, golf at times actually needs to pause more frequently, to even come to a halt on those occasions when the marvel of something more powerful than titanium arrives.
For instance, the wonder of nature as seen from the eighth green at Port Royal Golf Course, an ocean view that leaves you breathless.
Certainly, it leaves you mesmerized to the point where you could be left to care little about birdie putts or the chase for your piece of a $1.35 million purse. Their balls marked on the green at the downhill, downwind 198-yard hole, Webb Simpson, Keegan Bradley and Bubba Watson chose not to survey their birdie putts; instead, they marched to the back of the green in the company of their caddies – Paul Tesori, Steve Hale and Ted Scott, respectively – and the six of them put the business of golf on hold in favor of a sight that left them in awe.
“It’s up there with any view in the world,” Bradley said. “It’s nuts. I am amazed at the view, and since it was so calm out, it was better than I’d ever seen it,” Bradley said.
“Pebble (Beach) is the most beautiful place I’d ever been – until I came to Bermuda,” Simpson said. “It’s like Pebble, the same views, but with clear water. It’s beautiful. I could stay there all day.”
Oh, how it seemed as if the trio of American golfers were going to stay there all day, gazing out at an endless stretch of Atlantic Ocean that seemingly covered the spectrum of blue. Aqua or baby, Egyptian or Catalina, Periwinkle or powder . . . it was blue for as far as the eye could see. And clear? It appeared as if you could see bottom a half-mile out.
“Something else, isn’t it?” Tesori said, though behind them, there was indeed something else going on.
Padraig Harrington, his lead in the 30th PGA Grand Slam of Golf clipped to just one, was studiously stalking his 35-foot birdie putt. With his trademark focus and his looks from a few different angles, Harrington looked and assessed, calculated and pondered, and all the while he had the green to himself.
“I felt very lonely,” Harrington said with a laugh, knowing full well why Simpson, Bradley and Watson were paying so very little attention.
The Irishman was not in the least offended, for he respected what his competitors in this four-man tournament were doing.
“You do want to take in things like that on the golf course,” Harrington said, “but at times you have to be focused and not get distracted.”
Few resist temptation like Harrington, so when he slam-dunked that 35-footer for birdie, it was if a signal had been sent. He had put scratchy holes behind him (the par-4 sixth when he had to make a 6-footer to save par, and the par-5 seventh when he was the only one not to birdie) and put himself in a better frame of mind. Sure enough, a few holes later he ran off three consecutive birdies to all but secure a victory for which he truly feels fortunate.
Mostly because “the wins don’t come around as often as you think,” and partly because just five days ago he was hitting balls back home in Ireland, preparing for a lengthy flight to play in China at the BMW Masters. Next thing Harrington knew, his agent called to say Ernie Els had hurt his ankle and might pull out of the Grand Slam of Golf, so was he interested? The next day, Els’ withdrawal was confirmed and so was Harrington’s entry. Goobye, China; hello, Bermuda.
“It was always the right decision (to come), no matter what,” Harrington said after his lone bogey of the day, a three-putt at the par-4 18th, mattered little. He had backed up Tuesday’s 5-under 66 with a solid 67 to finish at 9-under 133, one better than Simpson (65), who kept the pressure on with a bogey-free round. Bradley, the defending champion, shot 67 to finish tied at 3-under with Watson, who was just a shot off the lead through six holes but struggled on the back and shot 71.
At 41, Harrington remains in the thick of things on the global golf stage, but it’s more challenging than ever. His last win came at the 2010 Iskandar Johor Open on the Asian Tour, and there’s been space put between him and that 2007-08 glory when he won two Open Championships and a PGA.
“It was pretty tough for me before 2007 (to win a major), and by the end of 2008 it seemed quite easy,” Harrington said. But talent has arrived from all corners of the globe, there are rich purses everywhere crying for a player’s attendance, and as younger and stronger players have gotten better and better, the Irishman, having tinkered with his game and fallen to No. 57 in the world rankings, has found victories tough to come by.
So, yes, “it’s important to win, there’s no doubt about it,” he said.
If that birdie putt at the eighth picked up his game, Harrington clearly assumed control when he slammed a 6-iron to 4 feet at 11, followed with an approach to inside of 5 feet at 12, and then hit his “nicest shot of the day,” a skyscraping 6-iron at the downhill, 225-yard, par-3 13th that set up a 6-footer and his third birdie in a row.
At 10 under, Harrington led by four over Watson and Simpson, but the former lost all hope with a bogey at 15 when his drive got stuck in a tree and at the par-3 16th when he hit his tee shot onto the beach. As for the latter, Simpson never quit, and he may have caught Harrington had he not hiccuped over a 5-footer at the par-4 15th.
“Didn’t set over it and pulled it,” Simpson said, shaking his head. He had birdied 14 to get within three and would have trailed by just two had he made that at 15. Instead, a three-shot deficit with just three holes left was too much to overcome, though it will go into the record books as a close one because Simpson made birdie at the 17th and Harrington bogeyed the 18th.
Might have been the most painless bogey ever, too, because Harrington truly embraced this win. His stated goal is to move back into the top 50, and though this win won’t help (too few players for world-ranking points), he’s got three big tournaments in Asia later this year and is sure of where he’s going.
“I believe I’m playing really good golf,” he said. “I believe that there’s good stuff in my game already. I see a lot of good things happening, and I do believe that I’m turning the corner into a peak. What those peaks are, we’ll wait and see.”
Thrilled to have been invited for the third time to this tournament, Harrington left with a far different taste in his mouth. He had lost playoffs to Angel Cabrera in 2007 and Jim Furyk in 2008, so if he seemed focused on changing his fortunes, there was good reason. Not that he didn’t appreciate the view that his colleagues enveloped themselves in at the par-3 eighth; it just had to wait until he took care of his business.
“It was as beautiful a scenic spot as you could find anywhere in the world,” Harrington said.
Then he smiled that priceless Irish smile and added, “and when you made a birdie and holed a long putt, it’s even nicer. Hard to believe.”
Surely, Harrington’s colleagues, disappointed as they may have been for not winning, would agree with his assessment of Bermuda, which has hosted this made-for-TV, intended-for-the-season’s-major-champions tournament since 2007. Bradley for a second year in a row filled half of the Fairmont Southampton with his family and friends, though he absolutely did not join Watson, Simpson and their caddies in jet-ski and swimming excursions.
“I’m a land guy,” Bradley said. “But I do love to look at the water.”
Oh, how he came to the right place, because it captivated them all. Only thing is, as Simpson, Bradley and Watson left for their flights and Harrington prepared to stay another day before heading home to Ireland, left up in the air is whether this Grand Slam of Golf will return next year to this idyllic island. The championship contract is expired, and while negotiations with Bermuda officials are ongoing, PGA of America officials also have been approached by other venues. San Diego has been mentioned and possibly somewhere in Mexico, but for now, players voiced their support for Bermuda.
“It’s beautiful,” Simpson said. “I kind of want to build a house at eight green.”