Final thoughts from the PGA Championship

I’ll get to Sergio Garcia in a second and will post my column from Tuesday’s Sanford Herald here.

But how about Padraig Harrington? Simply brilliant, and he has moved himself into the upper reaches of golf history by capturing his third major championship in 13 months. 

When Tiger Woods when down with his ACL injury, there was a lot of talk about who would fill his spikes. Phil Mickelson came to mind. Ernie Els. Garcia. Vijay. 

In the end it’s Harrington, who has elevated himself in such a short span of time unlike any player in the game’s history. To go from one of the top European players in the world to the echelon reserved for the likes of Stewart, Price, Els, Mickelson, Singh, Irwin, Casper, Boros — that’s some good work.

But it’s also about how Harrington has done it. His breakthrough win at the 2007 British Open at Carnoustie was helped by a Sergio Garcia meltdown. And while some may say the Irishman was aided by another Garcia blowup, one needs to look no further than Harrington’s 32 on the back nine as evidence that he took this championship. Nothing was given to him. Just like the 2008 Open, where he closed with a 32.

And there were other moments. Twice on the front nine, Harrington — who needed just 11 putts on his last nine holes — got up-and-down from 40-foot-plus bunker shots, and did it in 1 under. Even professional golfers will tell you that’s one of the game’s toughest shots, and Harrington stiffed both of them.

And then there are the two par putts on 16 and 18. As Garcia couldn’t find the bottom of the cup from 6 feet, Harrington was jarring big-time, Tiger-esque putts. Remember the one Woods made on 18 to force the playoff in the U.S. Open? Harrington did that twice.

As for Ben Curtis, who led for much of the day, he has to be considered one of the most underrated big-time players in the game. I know how ludicrous that sounds on the surface, and I know that he was hard to find on the FedEx Cup points list just two months ago. 

But the 2003 Open championship was seventh at the British and tied for second at the PGA. He’s won three times on Tour and nearly won his second major. Should he play well in the Ryder Cup next month, his legacy will have changed forever. But already he is no Shaun Micheel. He is no Paul Lawrie. He is no Todd Hamilton.

And Garcia? Well, here you go:

For Garcia, different scene, same result

The ball was in the hole.

The championship was in the bag.

And then they weren’t.

Sergio Garcia had the PGA Championship won for a split second on Sunday. He had shed the overbearing chain mail that envelopes the best player never to have won a major championship.

For the slightest of moments, he had begun to peel it off, layer after layer, 37 times over. In his 38th major, finally it would be his name etched onto one of golf’s most recognizable trophies and into the annals forever.

The ball came down, all over it, as they say.

The problem was, it was all over it. 

The ball hit the pin, but that wasn’t the problem. The ball actually shot down the shaft and found the cup, and had it settled there, it would have been the shot of the championship, maybe for all time in PGA history. An eagle to essentially close out the PGA.

But it bounced out. Two putts later, it was a measly par, and the door was opened for more of Padraig Harrington’s major heroics.

“I should’ve told my caddie to take the pin out, I guess,” Garcia quipped.

For once, fate didn’t side with Garcia. This wasn’t his fault. But it could have been revenge from the golf gods for all of Garcia’s bluster over the years. After all, he was the one who wondered aloud at Carnoustie last year whether a higher power had it in for him.

But the last three holes, where Garcia truly gave the championship away to a deserving champion, that was all him. Fate had nothing to do with any of that. Standing in the fairway on 16, Garcia was still in control of his own destiny. But he dumped his approach shot into the water.

Still, he scrambled beautifully for a tough bogey. This did seem like a new and improved Garcia. The hot head from years before would have crumbled. He was brilliant for 15 holes on Sunday, starting birdie-eagle to put the heat on Ben Curtis early in the final round.

But while he was a different guy who said all of the right things following his round, he was the same man on the links. A 6-foot birdie on 17 would have tied him with Harrington. But he missed. And the ball that bounced out on 15? It was only 10 feet away. As Harrington proved with his dazzling par on 18, the one that he needed to jar a 15-footer for, champions make those putts.

Garcia instead limped in with another bogey on 18, the championship gone. The ghosts will continue to whisper about his mettle. He will continue to carry golf’s heaviest load, one Phil Mickelson, Davis Love III, Fred Couples and Tom Kite knew so well.

Garcia was great on Sunday for 15 holes. But he was great a year ago until standing on the 17th tee at Carnoustie, too.

A different man? Maybe. 

The same golfer?

The last three holes don’t lie.

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Filed under British Open, Designated Hitter, Golf, Padraig Harrington, PGA Championship, PGA Tour, Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Sports, Sports columns, The Masters, The Sanford Herald, Tiger Woods, U.S. Open

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