2005: Happy Harrington bubbly at Barclays

By Chuck Stogel

HARRISON, N.Y.

Padraig Harrington admits he can get down on himself and, at times, lose his good-natured demeanor. So it was distinctly noticeable at the Barclays Classic when the 33-year-old native of Dublin, Ireland, spent the entire week with a smile on his face, no matter what adversity he encountered.

It was a tactic he decided to employ despite the worries and disappointments he has been facing. For one, he had missed the cut in his previous two starts, at the Booz Allen Classic and the U.S. Open at Pinehurst. For another, his father, Patrick, recently suffered a serious recurrence of cancer, and Harrington has been on the phone daily to monitor the situation.

“You know, I’m a strange person. My emotions really dictate how I play,” said Harrington, who earlier this season withdrew from the BellSouth Classic and Shell Houston Open so he could fly home to be with his ailing father. “With the family situation and the way I’ve been playing, I’ve been hard on myself. So this week, I decided to lighten up a bit and try and enjoy it more. I always play better with a smile on my face.”

Harrington kept his vow, even after he stumbled early in the final round June 26 at Westchester Country Club. Tied with 2003 U.S. Open champ Jim Furyk after 54 holes, Harrington faltered with a bogey on the second hole Sunday, then took a double-bogey 6 on the third hole to fall three strokes off the pace.

“The start was certainly not what I wanted,” said Harrington, who nonetheless maintained a whimsical grin. “It was a terrible start.”

But on a day when nobody made a serious charge, it was the finish that mattered most – and brought the biggest smile to Harrington’s face.

The dramatic ending came at the 18th hole, where Harrington and Furyk were still tied on the tee box, and well ahead of any others, at 8 under. Reaching the green in 2, Harrington went first and proceeded to roll in a lollapalooza of a 65-foot, lower-to-upper-level putt for an eagle-3 and his second PGA Tour victory this season. Furyk followed with a 15-foot putt for birdie that was wholly anticlimactic in securing second place.

“I was just trying to two-putt,” said Harrington, who captured the Honda Classic in March, marking the inaugural Tour victory for the nine-time international winner. “I was trying to get it close. I’m a total realist in those situations. If you offered me 3 or 4 feet, I probably would have said, ‘All right, I’ll take that.’ ”

The winning putt gave Harrington a 1-under 70 and a 274 total, 10 under par, along with the winner’s check of $1.035 million. Furyk, stunned by the turn of events, closed with 71–275, earning $621,000.

“He just hit a fabulous putt,” said Furyk, who placed second for the third time this season. “It went right in the center. There’s nothing you can really do.”

For most of the back nine on the final day, Furyk held the lead by a couple shots. Still trying to find his winning form after undergoing wrist surgery in March 2004, the nine-time PGA Tour winner had not won in 39 events since the 2003 Buick Open. At Barclays, he shot a 6-under 65 in the first round and led or held a share of the lead each of the first three days.

“I’m disappointed,” said Furyk, who lost in a playoff to Vijay Singh at the Wachovia in early May. “There’s no consolation in second place. I thought I had the golf tournament won coming down the stretch.”

Up by three with five holes to play, Furyk made back-to-back bogeys when he failed to get up-and-down on the par-3 16th, then missed a 3-footer for par on the 17th.

“On 16, that was the big break,” said Harrington, enthusiastically supported all week by throngs of Irish-American New Yorkers. “He didn’t get up-and-down and, all of a sudden, where I thought I was going to be further behind (after missing the green but scrambling for par), I’m now with a real chance of winning. It put me in a great frame of mind.”

For Harrington, who was playing at Westchester for only the second time, the victory was sweet redemption after losing out last year, alongside Rory Sabbatini, in a three-way playoff won by Sergio Garcia. Following the victory, Harrington planned to return to Ireland to see his father and play in this week’s Smurfit European Open in Dublin, then take time off to prepare for the British Open July 14-17.

Kenny Perry, Brad Faxon and Brian Gay tied for third at 5-under 279, five shots behind Harrington.

Only one of the Big Four, two-time Barclays winner Vijay Singh, made the trek to Westchester. The No. 2-ranked player in the world, Singh threatened briefly but played his final 24 holes in 5 over to finish in a tie for seventh.

– Chuck Stogel is a free-lance writer from New York

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