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The Celtic Tiger

Brian Murphy
Yahoo Sports

So I do this weekly hit on Irish radio. It’s called “U.S. Sports” on NewsTalk 106 in Ireland, and it’s a kick to sort of be the national spokesman for American sports. Just think of the laughs: Explaining to the Irish radio audience about injection-caused buttock wounds on Roger Clemens, A-Rod’s certainty that Madonna is his soul mate, and just why Manny Ramirez won’t run out ground balls. It’s a helluva thing, American sports.

Anyway, so last week before the PGA Championship, my host pal Eoin McDevitt from the “Off the Ball” show asked me if I believed their national hero, Padraig Harrington, had another one in him.

I tried to answer without sounding condescending. Surely, this tiny sporting nation of 4 million was in love with their man Paw-draig, but the Irish didn’t think Harrington was supposed to win every major now, did they? I tried to let them down easy.

“Well, Eoin, I think you guys have to let Padraig off the hook here,” I said, quite impressed with myself. “Now, you guys have to remember: The only guy in the world these days who wins back-to-back majors in the same year is rehabbing down in his mansion in Florida. Mortals just don’t win back-to-back majors. It takes too much luck, too many good breaks, too much concentration and too much effort for a guy who just played his guts out and left it all on the course at Birkdale just three weeks ago.”

I wasn’t done being the Patronizing, Tiger-Loving American.

“Two in a row?” I asked rhetorically, nearly harrumphing. “That’s Tiger’s territory. So, come on, lads. Let’s be real. Padraig can be quite pleased with his major triumph, set his sights on the Ryder Cup and call it a great year.”

I practically expected them to toss rose petals at my feet, thanking me for the sporting wisdom.

And then Sunday night comes at Oakland Hills, and Padraig Harrington, on 17, makes the greatest “2” on the back nine of a major Sunday since – well, since Tiger’s “Nike Teardrop” on 16 at Augusta National in ’05; and then Padraig Harrington makes the greatest “4” on the 72nd hole of a major since – since, umm, Tiger at Torrey – and guess who’s the smartest guy on Irish radio now.

Two majors in a row? No problemo for a man whose Gaelic name, Padraig O hArrachtain, roughly translates in English to “Hey, Tiger, How Do You Like Them Apples?”

In the 1990s, a wild economic boon swept Ireland and changed the financial landscape of the auld green isle. They called it the “Celtic Tiger."

Guess who’s the new “Celtic Tiger?"

And I’m not just engaging in hyperbole for hyperbole’s sake. It’s one thing to say that Harrington has now won three of the past six majors, a Tiger-esque winning percentage. It’s another to look at how he did it. To say he shot 32 on the back nine at Birkdale to win; and then 32 on the back nine at Oakland Hills to win is a tidy way of putting it. If you want to be more expressive, let’s look at the actual shot-making the Celtic Tiger executed.

At Birkdale, his 5-wood from the fairway on the par-5 17th to 4 feet was creamier than the head on a newly poured Guinness, to continue my ethnic imagery. At Oakland Hills, he added to the lore of epic golf shots under epic waves of pressure.

So many examples, and each of them struck by a man whose face was frozen into a level of concentration so intense, it called to mind a locksmith on a bank job. We can call it the “Harrington Staredown” or the “Padraig Peer," or we don’t have to do any lame alliteration at all. We can just say that Harrington reminded us all the strength of the power of concentration and desire at life’s peak moments. Remind you of anyone?

They should start marketing clay impressions of the Harrington Staredown on O’Connell Street in Dublin, a wall hanging that would qualify as modern art.

He needed a 12-footer on 16 for a par, and somehow made it when he had to, a putt 10 percent stroke, and 90 percent will.

Seventeen at Oakland Hills is a merciless thing, more a form of punishment than a golf hole. To stand on the tee box tied for the lead of a major on a Sunday, then muscle a 5-iron to 10 feet is what you call a Stand-And-Deliver moment. To then pure the putt home for a birdie 2 and the outright lead is nothing short of shouting to the mountaintops.

That he followed that with a well struck, but slightly leaked tee shot on 18 into a sadistic lie in a fairway bunker was a test of the man’s belief in humanity. Under that much pressure, with bogey nearly a certainty, and maybe even a best-case scenario, he chunked one out and had a million yards to the green and a lie in the rough. Out of the mud, grows the lotus: He put the Padraig Peer on a 7-iron and landed it hole-high, 15 feet. You could only admire the man’s grace under pressure. That he made the putt was more than remarkable, it was inevitable, given the lesson he’s given us in the last month of the power of mind and body combined.

Again: Remind you of anyone?

But enough of the Tiger comparisons. When Harrington won at Birkdale, the story was more of Greg Norman’s audacious bid for glory falling short. And one supposes, one could see Oakland Hills as another chapter of Sergio Garcia woe, but I won’t. This was Padraig Harrington’s story. He authored its glory, its compelling narrative arc. It’s his moment, no matter what any gasbag on the radio has to say.

BROADCAST MOMENT OF THE WEEK

“But, why, Gary? He’s just hit the paintwork with his shot before? He can go for it.”

“Nick, the front of this green rolls right back down. We’ve seen so many guys in the water today, it’s unbelievable.”

Nick Faldo and Gary McCord, in a spirited and excellent on-air debate about Sergio Garcia’s stance and alignment suggesting he was firing at a tucked pin on 16 at Oakland Hills, bringing water into play.

This was the non-Padraig moment of the day, for CBS-watchers and for those of us interested in Sergio’s fate. McCord was on it from the get-go, knowing that a player with a one-shot lead on the 70th hole of a major had no business firing at a tucked pin near water. Faldo, who’s normally a voice of reason, lost the plot momentarily. It made for an electric moment of TV, and when Garcia’s ill-fated decision left him in the water, McCord uttered the eulogy: “I don’t know what he was trying to do there.”

By his own hand, whether a poorly-struck putt (from 4 feet on 17) or a poorly-conceived strategy, Garcia blew another chance at a major, and the scar tissue is getting thicker than the Oakland Hills rough. No wonder Sergio made a mad dash for the Port-A-Potty on the 72nd hole – he needed sanctuary, however foul smelling, from the madness.

The larger picture for Cap’n Faldo is, that was Team Europe atop the leaderboard at a major in America – with the Ryder Cup in America just six weeks away. That’s the good news. The bad news is, if Cap’n Faldo is going to coach his players to take absurd risks late in matches, that Cup could be staying Stateside with our McDonald’s hamburgers, obese population and loud voices – and whatever else Euro stereotype on this great nation endures from the peanut gallery that is the old continent.

Scorecards of the week

70-73-71-70 – Phil Mickelson, tie-7th.

72-74-69-74 – Retief Goosen, tie-24th.

71-75-70-75 – Ernie Els, tie-31st.

76-76-MC – Vijay Singh, MC.

Anybody notice a common thread here? Anybody remember “The Big Five," which really should have been named “Tiger And The Four Pretenders?"

So Tiger missed two majors, and if we were to believe the karmic justice in this world, they would have been won by Ernie Els at the British and Phil Mickelson at the PGA, and each tortured soul would have one more major and that much more of a foothold in golf history.

Instead, Harrington did what none of them could. When Tiger returns to Augusta in April of ’09 “two strokes clear of the field on Thursday morning”, as this column’s dear friend, Mark Cannizaro of the New York Post, said on our radio show, the Four Pretenders will have gained nothing except pain.

In Tiger’s absence, gains were made by Harrington, Anthony Kim and Kenny Perry – and whoever else chooses to play well between now and the Ryder Cup.

The Other Four? Not so much.

Mulligan of the week

This one goes to the PGA of America, who continue, mule-like, to hold their August championship in the Eastern Time zone.

What gives?

Hello, PGA of America: There’s this wonderful place called the West Coast. The West Coast does not have lightning in the summer. Heck, the West Coast does not even have rain in the summer. The West Coast features great golf courses, like Harding Park and Olympic Club and Pebble Beach and Pumpkin Ridge and Riviera and Torrey Pines and Sahalee and countless others which can host your championship… free of weather delays!

Instead, they hold them at Oakland Hills (weather delay), Baltusrol (Monday finish), Hazeltine (lighting storm like a 4th of July fireworks show), Southern Hills (sweat-fest), and on and on and on.

How about the West Coast? No humidity, no static electricity in the air.

What an amazing concept: A major without lightning delays. Instead, at Oakland Hills this year, we were all denied the enjoyment of a third round of the 2008 PGA Championship – that is, unless you woke up with the roosters and watched the 6 a.m tee times on Sunday.

Yo, PGA of America: It’s called Manifest Destiny. Try it sometime.

Where do we go from here?

The Tour heads to Greensboro for the Wyndham Championship. I don’t know about you, but I’m headed to O’Connell Street in Dublin to buy one of them Padraig Harrington Masks O’ Concentration.

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