Heroic Harrington saves best for last

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 December, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 08 December, 2003, 12:00am

'I knew it was all or nothing. There was no time for second best,' says Irishman

Dublin's fair city provided a second winner yesterday. Padraig Harrington may not be as pretty as Miss World 2003 Rosanna Davison, but he still had all the style of Miss Ireland - and nerve, too, as he won the US$700,000 Omega Hong Kong Open with a sensational 20-foot birdie on the last hole.

Irish eyes were smiling for the second straight day as a delighted Harrington rattled in two sweet birdies on the last two holes to grab the 45th Hong Kong Open from South Africa's Hennie Otto by one shot.

'I thought I might as well win it while it was under my control. My final thought before the last putt was, 'I can win it now',' Harrington said of the playoff-preventing birdie putt that gave him a final-round score of four-under-par 66 and the first prize of US$113,000.

On Saturday, Davison, daughter of Lady in Red songwriter Chris de Burgh, was crowned Miss World in Sanya, Hainan. Yesterday, fellow-Dubliner Harrington became the gentleman in red as he donned the now-traditional Chinese red jacket awarded to the winner. He is the first Irishman to win the Hong Kong Open -the first leg of the European Tour's 2003-04 season and the penultimate tournament of this year's Asian PGA Tour.

Perhaps some Irish balladeer might compose a song of how Harrington held his nerve under tremendous pressure, seeing off numerous challenges all day - from Swede Christopher Hanell, the overnight leader, and left-handed Englishman Chris Gane - and then coming back after losing his lead to Otto with three holes left to play.

'At the 16th, I realised that I had lost the lead to Otto. I decided to get aggressive then. I knew it was all or nothing. There was no time for second best,' said Harrington, who finished on 11-under-par 269.

Harrington tied with Otto after bogeying the 14th. Otto, meanwhile, in the flight ahead, was on a birdie spree. He knocked in three successive birdies on holes 15, 16 and 17 and finished on 10-under-par 270 for the tournament. All the cards were in his favour as Harrington, coming up to the 17th tee, needed two birdies, one to draw level and the other to win.

It was a huge ask. But Harrington is the world's 10th best golfer and he lived up to his reputation, slotting home a 12-foot birdie on the 17th and then wrapping it up in front of a packed gallery with a monster 20-footer on the final hole. In the previous three rounds, he had made par, par and bogey. But the muse was with him yesterday.

'I walked up pretty confident. I felt good about it and I knew I could do it. A playoff was definitely on my mind, but I was going for the birdie,' said Harrington.

Last season he also won the opening leg - the BMW Asian Open in Taiwan. His love story with Asia continues. 'I love the greens in this part of the world. The Far East suits me,' said Harrington.

Starting the day on seven-under and one shot behind sole leader Hanell, who was in the last flight too, the Irishman was soon in the swing of things. Two birdies on the second and third holes, the 149-yard par three and a 551-yard par five respectively, saw him overhaul Hanell. 'I played a very good front nine. But I had a bad drive on the 10th and that knocked me back a bit,' said Harrington, who bogeyed the hole and fell back to a one-shot lead. And when he bogeyed the 14th hole, Otto took the lead.

But if a daughter of Ireland can be voted as the most beautiful girl in the world, Harrington, a proud son of Ireland, could certainly say he was the gutsiest golfer in Hong Kong this week.

'I just came up a bit short. But if you had given me second place at the start of the week, I would have taken it,' said Otto, who led the first round of the British Open this year, and was seeking his first win on the European Tour.

Sweden's Frederik Jacobson, last year's winner, finished in joint-third place on seven-under-par 273 with Gane, Thomas Bjorn of Denmark and Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke. Hanell shot a closing 72 to finish in a tie for seventh place with Thailand's Prayad Marksaeng, the top Asian finisher, and South Africa's James Kingston.

'I needed a few points [he got 20] in the world rankings to have a bit of fat over the winter,' added Harrington, looking forward to an eight-week break before resuming his assault on the world's courses.