July 25, 2007

Tim Rosaforte's Tour Insider

What lies ahead for the two playoff foes from Carnoustie?

Harrington has scaled a mountain that Garcia is still climbing.

Harrington has scaled a mountain that Garcia is still climbing.

Padraig Harrington has his first major. Sergio Garcia is still looking for his. Golf World's Tim Rosaforte analyzes the present -- and future -- of the two playoff combatants at Carnoustie.

Padraig Harrington: Where does he go from here?

When he awoke Monday morning, it was undeniably real. Padraig Harrington put the claret jug at the foot of his bed when he went to sleep at 4 a.m., and two hours later, there it was, still there. He was now a major champion, the Champion Golfer of the Year, winner of the 2007 British Open at Carnoustie. Now what?

That question hit Michael Campbell two years ago, too. He went to sleep with the U.S. Open trophy after winning at Pinehurst, but last Thursday represented a rare trip back to a press tent at a major. The Kiwi shot 68 in the opening round of the Open Championship, immediately announced, "You're probably surprised, aren't you?" and expressed a newfound mental image, courtesy of his news sports psychologist.

Winning the first major was like climbing Mount Everest. The problem most first time major winners have is getting back to base camp. Campbell has struggled, dropping to 109th in the world. Now it's Harrington's turn to enjoy the view.

"I woke my wife up and said, 'I am the Open champion,' " Harrington said Monday morning. "The trophy was lying at the end of the bed and both of us were looking at it in awe. It was one of those reflective moments when you sit back and say, 'I can't believe I've done it.' "

Of all the European golfers to break the string, it wasn't one of the young rock stars to do it, but a workingman's golfer who answered Nick Faldo's call before the Open by declaring, "Nice guys can win majors," and then, in a dramatic climax to the year's third major, caught a nice guy's break. The Irishman hit two balls in the Barry Burn on the 72nd hole and still had the resolve to make a putt for double bogey and play four extra holes in -1. That was enough to outlast Sergio Garcia, the day's tragic figure once again.

It was an epic battle on a storybook layout, finishing on a hole that was called "staggeringly good," by R&A Secretary Peter Dawson in the morning after news conference at Carnoustie, As for Campbell, he followed up that 68 with rounds of 78-72-77 for a T-57. Instead of finding base camp, that is getting caught in another snow slide.

Harrington shouldn't have the same problem finding his footing. He is working with super guru Bob Rotella, growing better and better year-by-year to reach this summit. He seems to have wrapped his mind around the next step in mountain climbing: Don't look down; find another mountain.

"When I was asked about winning a major in the past, I'd say I was trying to win more than one," he said. "That's a huge point for me. I knew if I ever crossed the threshold of winning a major, it wouldn't feel like that was the end of the road for me. Now I'll try to win another."

This is no shock that Harrington joins the majors club. He's finished second in two Players Championships, was one shot out of the four-man playoff at Muirfield in 2002, and threw away a chance to win the U.S. Open at Winged Foot. Last year he was host pro for the Ryder Cup victory in Ireland and European Tour Player of the Year. The only asterisk is that he was winless until the Dunhill Cup and a late-season victory over Tiger Woods at the Dunlop Phoenix in Japan. That gave him a different air of confidence, but just to show the competitive balance of the game, Harrington needed a playoff to win the Irish PGA against club pro Brendan McGovern the week before Carnoustie.

If this changes Harrington, it will be for the better. He has already stepped up by showing the other young lads in Ireland and around Europe that he if could do it, they could do it, too. From a self-starter who thought he'd never be more than a journeyman, who had to rethink his future after a dismal first U.S. Open at Congressional in '97, this is a story of hard work overcoming lack of natural ability.

Now he becomes a trailblazer. If this really is the dawn of another golden era in the majors for Europe, Paddy Harrington -- not Colin Montgomerie -- was the one to show the way. Even Garcia has to gain strength in knowing that if Harrington can do it, he can, too.

"We have brandished a hang-up for the moment," Harrington said. "I think the European players know my game and know what their games are in relationship to mine. The fact I've gone and done it will make a lot of them believe that they can do it, too."

Garcia: Will he ever get his major?

Next up is on the major rota Southern Hills and for Sergio Garcia that brings back more bad memories. One shot back going into the final round of the U.S. Open, Garcia made six bogeys and a double bogey to shoot 77 to tumble into a tie for 12th while playing partner Mark Brooks went on to face Retief Goosen in a playoff.

Counting Carnoustie, it was one of five solid chances that Garcia has encountered in major championships, two of those in the final group on Sunday with Tiger Woods. He is 0-for-36 going into the PGA Championship, a record that will wear on him with each trip to a media center.

"It's a cliche to say Sergio's young, he will win majors, but the longer it takes, the tougher it gets," Harrington said. "It's harder for him to enjoy a major week because there's a huge spotlight on him. Once he's gets into contention, it's incredible the focus that's going to be on him."

To his critics, Garcia gives new material with almost every sound bite. His post-round news conference at Carnoustie was not a display of good sportsmanship or eye contact. Head down and defensive to begin with, his opening comments included the reference to a 15-minute wait on the 18th fairway and an observation that, "I should write a book on how to not miss a shot in the playoff and shoot 1-over. It's the way it is. I guess it's not news in my life."

The self-pity was pitiful, never mind that it wasn't close to 15 minutes before he hit that 3-iron or that he fatted a wedge into the first playoff hole and made bogey from the front bunker. The reaction was classic Sergio. But the golf, for the most part, represented a new side of the Spaniard.

The belly putter gives him more room for error, and other than a shaky three-hole spurt on the front nine, where he dropped three strokes in four holes, this was not the Sergio who yipped his way out of crucial situations like this. He hit putts that kept burning edges, including the 10-footer on the 72nd hole for the jug.

In Europe, Garcia was given different media treatment than he has in America. Lewine Mair's final paragraph in the Monday morning Daily Telegraph ended with the thought that even the most insensitive of scribes will give Sergio a break before it starts up anew. "He has suffered enough," Mair concludes. In The Times, John Hopkins wrote in Tuesday's follow-up story that "Garcia should be given sympathy for losing out after coming so close."

Even Harrington was caught up in it. "I looked over and saw Sergio and thought, 'Oh, somebody has lost," he said Monday. "I really felt for him at that stage."

Garcia was one of the young European players targeted by Faldo in a breakfast interview with Derek Lawrenson of the Daily Mail where he questioned the heart and desire of the modern-day Euro player. The Ryder Cup captain felt the lads were too chummy, as if to suggest in retrospect that Garcia going to Luke Donald's wedding in Greece, or his bank account, had something to do with his near miss.

This was a big moment for Sergio, but there will be others. He held the lead since Thursday's 65, answered questions every day about his belly putter, and in the end, hit good putts that just didn't go in. Basically, he burned the edge of a major championship. Just remind yourself that he's 27, still with plenty of growth potential, not to mention a massive chip on his shoulder. He's overcome regripping and yips, so he'll overcome this.

As Harrington said, "He will win a number of majors."