Harrington cruises to his first Tour victory

 

PADRAIG HARRINGTON yesterday turned the final 36 holes of the Peugeot Spanish Open into 12 hours of personal golf glory. In one of the most astonishing performances in the 25 year history of the PGA European Tour, the 24 year old rookie professional from Rathfarnham won one of golf's most prestigious titles by a comfortable four strokes.

Rounds of 70, 64, 67 and 71 for a 16 under par total of 272 (in which he had 21 birdies and only five bogeys), took Harrington to victory over Ryder Cup golfer Gordon Brand Jnr. Holland's Rolf Muntz was third.

It earned him £91,660, rocketed him to second place behind Ian Woosnam in the Volvo rankings, and instantly made him a candidate to win a place in this year's US Open at Oakland Hills in June, and also the British Open at Royal Lytham in July.

Harrington said: "I feel very, very lucky ... I am really surprised to have won so quickly, but the experience of the Walker Cup helped tremendously. I am well able to handle TV cameras."

And he did it despite the disruptions caused by rain, which washed out Saturday's play, and fog, which caused a two hour delay to the yesterday's programme, which the tournament director Mike Stewart, had decided (after consultation with the sponsors) would consist of 36 holes.

The 72 players were sent out from two tees and given only a short break between the rounds. An extension into today looked inevitable, but once Harrington had established command by extending his overnight three stroke lead to seven with a third round 67, his challengers lost heart.

When Harrington went out in 35 in the final round to remain seven ahead, it was only a question of who would be second. Brand Jnr (68) claimed the £61,100 award after a furious battle with Mathias Gronberg, Rolf Muntz and Pedro Linhart, with old hands Torrance (68) and Eduardo Romero (66) producing, late charges to pocket handsome cheques.

But there was no denying Ireland's newest golf hero his moment of glory as he climbed the hill to the par four 18th greens knowing he could afford to take six putts, whether by the left hand below right method he uses for anything other than a right to left putt, or by the orthodox grip with which he is equally effective.

He allowed himself the luxury of three putts and then rejoiced in the acclaim of the large Spanish gallery that had stayed on until the late evening.

It was Harrington's morning round of 67 that virtually 5 his masterful success. It was almost 48 hours since he holed the last putt of his second round 64 when he teed off at the 10th.

After an opening par, he badly missed the 11th green by blocking his four iron tee shot. Faced with a chip over a bunker from a bare lie, he had no option but to err on the side of safety and accept a bogey.

Then he blocked his three iron from the centre of the fairway to the par five 12th, and with O'Malley and Brand Jnr making early birdies, he looked vulnerable.

But Harrington played a good chip to four feet, holed the putt for a birdie four, and settled his nerves with another from similar range at the dog leg 13th.

He was back into a three shot lead when he hit two drivers to the fringe of the 14th to complete a birdie hat trick, and thereafter it was plain sailing. A two at the 17th put him out in 33, and his birdies at the two inward par fives elevated Harrington to the commanding position from which he launched his triumphant run in to the title.

With experienced caddie John O'Reilly guiding him to the winning post, just as he had done with Des Smyth at nearby Puerta de Hierro in the 1993 Madrid Open, Harrington was able to relax and savour the final hours of a day he will always remember.