Pádraig Harrington rates Tiger Woods' 2006 Open win at Hoylake as the 14-time major winner's best ever performance.
But he fears that with the world No 1 — currently out indefinitely following back surgery and highly doubtful for the US Open and Pinehurst and a return to Royal Liverpool for The Open — may now struggle to equal Jack Nicklaus' haul of 18 major wins.
“It could have two effects — good in that like [José María] Olazábal, when you get injured and you come back, the excitement comes back and it could sharpen him up again," he said of Woods' injury problems. "That’s the positive. The negative is that he is getting to an age in life when these things are coming around too often.
“I still think he can beat Jack’s record but he doesn’t want to keep having injuries. Having a break will certainly keep him motivated. Time is not running out but it is starting to shorten a bit.
"Can he beat Jack’s record? Does he deserve to beat it? Yeah, he is the greatest golfer ever to play the game, but I'm biased in that I didn't compete with Jack.
"You know what, it would probably be nice if he just matched him. That would be nice. A halved match.”
Harrington shot 75-74 to miss the cut by six shots at Hoylake as Woods held off Chris DiMarco, Ernie Els, Jim Furyk, and Sergio García for a two-shot victory.for his first major tournament win since the death of his father, Earl, in May.
The American hit his driver just once in four days, hit 86 percent of the fairways and tied the lowest Open Championship score of 270 on one of the hardest and fastest Open venues seen in years.
"Rarely have I seen a golf course as fast," Harrington said. "You were afraid to put the club on the ground, it was slipping. You were afraid of hitting the golf ball every time you addressed it.
"Nobody could have played the golf Tiger played that week. That was the best golf Tiger Woods has ever played. Nobody could have played the golf course like that, laying up from all the trouble.
"We were struggling to stop a nine iron on the green and he was doing it with a five iron. It was phenomenal the way he played. There is nobody could have competed the way he played that week. Phenomenal display. His best by a long way that I have ever seen. It was a distinctly different way than I have ever seen. We were all put under so much pressure by the golf course. But he played it is own way.
"Was it better than Pebble beach in 2000? Pebble Beach was different, great golf. But Hoylake was just phenomenal. I’d say he was never out of position. Pebble was swashbuckling, a totally different way of playing."
Reminded that Woods had also managed to avoid going in a bunker when winning at St Andrews in 2000, where he won by six and avoided going in any of the 112 bunkers all week, Harrington still rated Hoylake as his top performance.
"That’s been done before," he said of avoid the bunkers on the Old Course. "Hoylake was hitting it down a road and trying not to be in a bunker. That’s hard. It was defensive but it was the only way he could play it. It was a different way he played it and he was the only one who could have played it that way. He performanced unbelievably well.
"At Pebble Beach the scoring was unbelievable [Woods won by 15 shots]. You tend to remember him hitting from the roug on the sixth, that unbelievable shot up the hill. Pebble was much more freeflowing compared to Hoylake. And if anything, that’s the change in his development."