Harrington vs Garcia: When winning makes life tougher

Padraig Harrington beat Sergio Garcia in a play-off when Carnoustie last hosted The Open in 2007. We reflect on how they have fared since.

Published : Jul 17, 2018 15:06 IST

"It possibly makes golf harder," said Padraig Harrington when reflecting on the counter-intuitive notion of the potential downsides of winning a major.

It seems odd to conceive of the idea that the game of golf, punishing as it so often is, would be made harder by the very act of demonstrating how good you are at it.

But that was the inescapable truth for the Irishman when he triumphed at the 2007 Open, when the oldest major last visited Carnoustie, host of this week's 147th edition.

Harrington got the better of Sergio Garcia in a play-off and it was the catalyst for a 13-month spell that yielded three majors, an impressive Open defence preceding victory at the 2008 US PGA Championship. The Spaniard came second there, too.

In this sport, however, Newton's Third Law finds itself readily substantiated - for all the positive consequences of Harrington's success came the equal and opposite negative reaction.

The game he might presume to have cracked got even more difficult.

"When you've won majors, you're trying to live up to that, and I've watched from the outside with so many other players and said, well, I'm not going to make that mistake, but it seems to be inevitable for people that, when they win a major, it's just hard to keep that momentum," Harrington confessed when he spoke at Carnoustie on Monday.

"So, yes, you change as a person, there's no doubt, in terms of your golf. For me, it was certainly a peak in my career."

At the time of his agony in Angus, Garcia's reputation as a nearly man was already well established, with 12 top-10 finishes at majors under his belt, but no green jacket, Claret Jug or any other sacred prize to assuage his pain.

Garcia had a putt to win that 2007 tournament, but it lipped out and he lost in his duel with Harrington over four holes. He would have to wait another 10 years before his Masters success.

In that intervening period, though, Garcia accumulated another nine top-10 finishes at one of the four headline events, while Harrington became far more familiar with missing the cut.

Harrington's relatively brief time at the top gives his CV a lopsided look and, again, Newton is vindicated - the forceful and merited reaction to any mention of the Dubliner's trio of triumphs is always, 'what has he done since then?'.

He knows it, too.

"It would have been a lot smoother in my career if I win a major every five years," he said.

"If I won one in 2007, 2012, 2017, that would have been a lot simpler on my golfing career.

"But it still goes down at three wins, and it always will."

He adds, almost by way of an afterthought: "...unless I make it to four."

It serves as a cautionary tale for Garcia, who looks to be proving Harrington's assertion correct. Since his win at Augusta last year, Garcia's major record reads T21, T37, CUT, CUT, CUT.

Golf got harder.

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