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His own fairy tale

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SOUTHPORT, England – After four days of fluctuations and flirtations with the most unlikely story lines imaginable, the British Open finally ended up in familiar hands.

Yet despite a week which saw unexpected bids for success from everyone from a 53-year-old legend fresh from his honeymoon to an unknown British amateur and a man in pink trousers, Padraig Harrington’s lifting of the claret jug for a second straight year was in some ways the biggest surprise of the lot.

Not that a Harrington victory against elite opposition should ever be considered a shock, but in his role as an injury victim and unlikely starter on Wednesday evening there was precious little hope of the famous old trophy returning to the popular Irishman’s mantelpiece for another 12 months.

Less than 12 hours before the tournament he was undergoing intensive treatment on his painful right wrist and feared he would be unable to defend the title won in a playoff against Sergio Garcia a year ago.

That scenario left him irritable and frustrated, yet the gales gusting in from the Irish Sea were like winds of change for Harrington. By Sunday, the physical concerns were long forgotten. No wonder physiotherapist Dale Richardson was the first name he mentioned in his victory speech.

Once the decision had been made to take part, Harrington got busy convincing himself that his problems were actually a blessing in disguise. His victory was a product of stellar play but more importantly, a tenacious mindset that refused to buckle.

As a test of mettle this Open was as extreme as it gets. Good shots cruelly met with nil reward, time and again.

But Harrington maintained the conviction to carry on doing the right things, playing the right way, and had the fortitude to keep his chin up when faced with the inevitable frustrations and unfairness meted out by the elements and the links.

With every reason to get downhearted, he developed a reverse conspiracy theory, telling himself that the misfortunes to befall him were actually working in his favor.

The lack of practice on the course would keep him fresh. The concerns over the wrist would distract him from the pressure of defending the Open.

But what about the three straight bogeys on the seventh, eighth and ninth? No problem. Just poor luck rather than poor play.

Harrington is the first to defend the Open since Tiger Woods did it in 2006. Like Woods' achievement, Harrington's triumph is special.

While his first major title in 2007 was more about relief, this was laced with genuine satisfaction, and rightly so.

Greg Norman, with new bride Chris Evert in tow, English challenger Ian Poulter and amateur star Chris Wood all came, saw and entertained. But it was Harrington who conquered, stamping his authority on the final afternoon with a birdie on 13 and ramming his foot on to the accelerator over the closing holes, to card a wonderful back-nine 32 to finish three-over.

This time, the celebratory fist-pump was less frenzied, and the victory speech of the 18th green mixed with genial humor rather than the raw emotion of Carnoustie.

Harrington had the crowd in stitches when he told the tale of how a member of the gallery had told him mid-round: “You think this is hard. I’ve got to go back to being a plumber on Monday morning.”

It was not a typical speech, but then again it was not a typical major. The location, the ferocious wind and the absence of Tiger saw to that.

But variety is no bad thing and a thrilling final afternoon that twisted and turned was considerably more entertaining than yet another comfortable cruise over the finishing line for the world’s greatest player.

What we got was a worthy champion for a memorable championship, a winner whose efficiency and nerve crushed all the fairy tale story lines, replacing them with one of his own.

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