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My Greatest Shot
Padraig Harrington
Magic on 17 at Royal Birkdale
Padraig Harrington at the 2008 Open

“I don't fear losing. It doesn't scare me. That's who I am.”

Padraig Harrington addressed his ball – 278 yards from the pin on the 17th at Royal Birkdale, on an Open Sunday in 2008, and his Claret Jug defence in the balance – with total faith in his abilities.

A fairway wood in his hands, TV commentators realised his intentions: he was headed straight for the hole.

Up flashes the scoreboard: Harrington is +5 with a two-shot lead at the summit, as much an illustration of the devilish conditions as the wind whipping his white shirt.

Perhaps the Irishman did not need to risk it all; perhaps he could play conservatively, lay up and walk away without any damage done, but that was out of the question in Harrington’s mind.

He was calm, supremely confident, and ready to lay the Claret Jug on the line.

“I'm going to take this on” Padraig Harrington

A title to defend

Twelve months earlier, Padraig Harrington had done something that he never expected to do.

At 35 years of age, the Dubliner had come close to major glory on several occasions, tying for fifth in 1997 and 2002, but some wondered whether his time had passed.

Cut at six of the nine majors that he had played from 2005 to The 136th Open at Carnoustie in 2007, he had struggled for form, especially this side of the Atlantic.

But after defeating Sergio Garcia in a playoff to become the first golfer from the Republic of Ireland to lift the Claret Jug, Harrington launched what was to be a run of form that 2001-era Tiger would have been proud of.

A tied-fifth at the Masters the following April, he would go on to lift the PGA Championship later that year, but not before he set out to retain his Claret Jug.

Padraig Harrington Claret Jug 2008

Unhappy Gilmore

Since 1983, no man had won consecutive Open titles, until Tiger Woods did just that in 2005 and 2006.

Harrington ended his hopes of three on the spin in 2007, and when he arrived on the first tee in Southport, many had suggested he would follow the American’s lead and go back-to-back.

But a freak accident almost put paid to his chances before they had even begun.

“I was at home and I was doing some speed work,” he explained.

“In my wisdom, I decided well, I'll do a one-hander Happy Gilmore into the impact bag and when it hit the bag I sprained my wrist.

“Obviously not a great time to do that. It was a serious injury. When they said it was touch and go whether I was going to play, I don't think anybody else would have played.”

But Harrington did play, and after shaking off a four-over-par 74 on the Thursday, a 68 on day two showed he was swinging easy.

On a Saturday that saw not a single golfer shoot under par, with winds gusting and swirling and carrying the ball to all corners of Merseyside, Harrington’s 72 took him to within two of Greg Norman in the lead.

And, playing with the Great White Shark on Sunday, Harrington feared the wrath of the golfing gods as the 53-year-old Norman took what would surely be his last chance at the Claret Jug.

Padraig Harrington at the 2008 Open

“I hit the best shot of my life”

Starting off his 18 in steady fashion, Harrington made par through his first six before disaster at the turn.

He bogeyed seven, eight and nine to hand Norman back the lead that the Irishman had earlier stolen, but on a topsy-turvy afternoon, the momentum shifted once again as the Australian hit the rocks with his helping of three dropped shots on the spin.

Harrington wrested the slide, sitting pretty in the lead at +5 with just two to play.

A drive straight, but short on 17, he had left himself plenty to do, and while he could easily have consolidated, once Norman had creamed his drive down the middle, Harrington’s mind was made up: it was win or bust.

“I've got 278 to the flag and I've got about 240 yards to carry a bunker short of the green,” he explained.

“I'm lying on a little down slope at the back of a knoll and I think, you know what, it's a left to right wind, it is blowing but five wood is my favourite club in the bag.

“I've just hit a couple of really nice shots with it. I feel great with this club. I'm going to take this on.”

And take it on he did, sending a beauty high into the winds, but for it to come up perfect, rolling onto the shelf of the green to within five feet.

Eagle duly sunk, the title was his, and with it, a double helping of Harrington on the jug.

“For as long as we go on there will be an Open Championship and my name will be on that trophy,” he finished.

“It's far more than I ever believed I could have done. I have definitely over-achieved in this game, but you know, I'm content with that now and will enjoy it for the rest of my years.”

Highlights from The Open at Royal Birkdale in 2008