Harrington's Run Is Good for Golf

By John Feinstein
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, August 11, 2008; 12:33 PM

It is very difficult today to not write about Michael Phelps. There is very little doubt, even at this early stage, that he is going to be the star of the Beijing Olympics. Only a missed turn or a relay teammate failing to come through is going to keep him from winning eight gold medals -- and he may set world records in all five of his individual events.

Saturday night-Sunday morning in Beijing, he blew away the field in the 400 individual medley and destroyed his own world record in the even by almost a second-and-a-half. Yesterday, he and his American teammates -- notably Jason Lezak -- caught the French from behind to win the 4x100 meter freestyle relay. Two down, six to go.

But Phelps and the Olympics are still a work in progress. He has almost another week to swim and the Games themselves won't end until a week from Sunday -- with, we can only hope, no more violence and minimal smog. Phelps is a lot better bet than peace and clean air at this point.

What we can say with certainty this morning is that golf will not face the embarrassment of having to give the Player of the Year award to someone who only played in six tournaments.

Before yesterday, Tiger Woods -- on one leg -- was the clear cut Player of the Year. In the six events he managed to play he had won four -- including the U.S. Open. He finished second at the Masters and 12th at Doral. It is unlikely that anyone on the PGA Tour is going to win four times, plus a major, this year. Kenny Perry has won three tournaments but he chickened out of the U.S. Open and the British Open, then had to withdraw with a scratched cornea after shooting 79 in the first round of the PGA Championship.

If Perry were to win all four of the FedEx Cup playoff tournaments he still wouldn't be the Player of the Year. You have to show up for the majors to be the Player of the Year. Which is why Padraig Harrington is going to win the award going away, and deserves to win it.

What Harrington has done in the last month is nothing short of remarkable. In fact, it is so amazing it can almost be described with the highest compliment a golfer can be paid: He's been Woods-like.

The night before the British Open he wasn't sure he was going to make it to the first tee because of a wrist injury he had suffered while working out the previous weekend. He not only teed it up, he pieced together a remarkable 32 on Birkdale's windswept back nine on Sunday and won going away for his second straight British Open title.

If he hadn't made another cut all year it would have been a successful year.

He made the cut at Oakland Hills this past weekend -- but not by that much. He was 5-over-par after 36 holes, trailing J.B. Holmes, the leader, by six shots and was closer to the cut line (three shots) than he was to Holmes. But with torrential rains on Saturday slowing the greens to make the golf course more playable, Harrington shot 66-66, including another back nine 32 on Sunday to steal the title from Sergio Garcia.

As most great players do, Harrington won the championship with his putter. After a bad break on a bunker shot at 16, he poured in a bending 12-footer for par to stay even with Garcia. Then, after Harrington had hit is tee shot to 10 feet at the treacherous par-3 17th, Garcia hit an extraordinary shot to five feet. But Harrington made his putt for birdie and Garcia, always haunted by his putter, missed.

Finally, on 18 -- where the only birdie all day came when Steve Flesch holed out from 130 yards -- both players missed the fairway.

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