Padraig Harrington Leads Three Stories at Unpredictable Tournament
For anyone who left the TV assuming that the Honda Classic was going to go one way, as it first appeared it would, you blew it – big mistake. There was the flamboyant Ian Poulter, moving along like a well-oiled machine, unruffled except for celebrations over an occasional eagle along the way. The TV set appeared as if on remote control. Poulter’s victory was inevitable. Then he went aquatic, several times, once from the same spot, and was gone in the blink of an eye. An old friend of the tour was waiting in the wings, someone we haven’t thought about for a while – Irishman Padraig Harrington.
Over the past year or two, Harrington’s game had eroded to the point where, even as a three-time major winner, he had lost his full playing status on the tour. Thanks to his former glory, he was receiving sponsor invitations from all but one event for the year, but it was far from the days where he was a regular threat, Tiger or not.
Padraig is 43 years of age, and many wrote him off permanently because of it. I, however, knew better. I’ve been 43, and I loved it. I felt great, played better than at most of my other ages, and still recovered quickly from the round, ready to do it again in no time. Padraig might feel the same way if he keeps playing like this. I always keep him on my “root for” list, due to his high likeability, and I think that he can still deliver. Besides a hefty check and a trophy, Harrington freed himself from some of those sponsor invitations, and he’s now on the invitation list for the Masters through the next two years. My personal opinion is that when he’s 45 in the final year of that invitation, he’ll still be young enough to win it. He seems to agree, remarking after the victory that “it doesn’t matter how old you are…it’s just getting the ball in the hole.”
A third story emerged behind Harrington and Poulter that none of us expected. It put to rest the question of whether there is such a thing as too young. Twenty-one year old Daniel Berger, a rookie from the Florida State program and a prominent tennis family put on quite a display, reminiscent of a vintage Arnold Palmer rally. This was a big one, as he stormed up to the top of the board from nine strokes back.
Berger wasn’t entirely unknown. In his last six starts, he has finished in the top fifteen four times, actually quite a bit better than Harrington’s recent record. The news coming out this morning is that he will skip this week’s Puerto Rico Open, but those who suggest that he is sulking couldn’t be more wrong. Berger took home all kinds of future perks, not to mention a check for almost seven hundred thousand. Yes, losing on the second hole of a sudden death playoff hurts. Almost nothing that falls into the “almost had it” category is easy to bear, but at his age, he’ll get over it quickly. Life as a golfer lays wide open before him. Fresh out of school, Berger already sits at number fifteen in the Fed Ex rankings, so the hurt is certainly temporary.
The Honda Classic gave us a great show. The temporarily lost Harrington, a crowd favorite, has reappeared as a presence, the self-destruction of Ian Poulter gave every golfing ambulance chaser a thrill, and the youth movement found yet another star it can be proud of. Of course, there was also the tournament itself, giving us a cliff-hanger worthy of a day’s watching.