Harrington prepares for change

Brian Keogh in California

As Tiger Woods wrapped up the eighth win of a momentous season in the Target World Challenge at Sherwood Country Club, echoes of Padraig Harrington’s epic Open Championship victory reverberated around the Hidden Valley.

After shrugging off a final round charge from Jim Furyk and equalling the tournament scoring record for seven-stroke victory over Masters champion Zach Johnson, Woods planted a kiss on the cheek of his six-month old daughter Sam Alexis and paid tribute to the immense power of family ties.

“Even though I had won, I just wanted to know how she's doing, how she's been all day,” said a beaming Woods, who lost his father Earl last year. “I forgot that for a moment, ‘Hey, you won a golf tournament.’

“I can understand how Paddy (Harrington) reacted the way he did at the British Open, having his son run out there and maybe just had a big debacle there at 18, and it put things in perspective right away. That's how powerful family is.

“This year on the golf course it's been a great year. (Off the course) it's been the greatest year I've ever had. As I've said before, it's been a polar 180 of last year.”

Despite nine three-putts in four rounds at Sherwood Country Club, where he earned $210,000 for 10th place, Harrington described the moment when four-year old Paddy scampered onto Carnoustie’s 18th green as his top moment of a “phenomenal” year.

“The one thing I had no control over but had the biggest effect on me was my son running onto the green of the 72nd hole at The Open Championship,” said Harrington, who announced plans for a significant swing change in 2008. “Everything else was in my hands. I was in control. It was me who was dictating everything but that was the one thing I had not planned for and it made all the difference. It totally did.”

Even as he signed autographs for his fans in California, the Dubliner was already thinking ahead to his four-week winter break and a swing change he believes will help him hit more fairways and greens in regulation next season.

“I am changing my ball flight and changing my swing to deal with that,” said Harrington, who will makes his 2008 debut in the Abu Dhabi Championship from January 17-20. “I am changing from a draw to more of a held off shot.

“It will give me a bit more distance control with my irons. I think I have always wanted to go this way and I feel I know how and I am ready to go.

“I want to get steeper and hold it off a bit more and really if anything, drop it off to the right if I hit a bad shot. It’s not a fade. It is more of a held off shot - more like Monty. More like Hogan.”

Woods donated his $1.35 million winner’s cheque to his Tiger Woods Learning Centre after a season that will go down as one of his best ever.

The bad news for his rivals is that he feels he can only get better before he reappears alongside Harrington in a dress rehearsal for next season’s US Open - the Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines in San Diego at the end of January.

“Obviously I've got a lot of room for improvement, which is great fun,” Woods said. “Obviously, I hit a lot of good shots this week but I also hit some loose ones.

“The great thing is my bad ones aren't as bad as they used to be. Either I just miss fairways or just miss greens, but obviously not off the planet like they used to be.”

Woods also believes his close friend Darren Clarke is getting back to his best after learning of Clarke’s first top 10 finish for 18 months in the South African Airways Open on Sunday.

Again, family was a major theme.

“Not too many people can really and truly understand what he's gone through and how hard it's been,” he said of Clarke, who lost his wife Heather to cancer in August last year. “I've talked to him on quite a few occasions. It's been pretty painful, been very tough.

“You know, the thing he alluded to is he's become so much closer to his kids, and that's given him a lot of strength.

“I think now they're just starting to see the game turn around and I think he's going to make some nice strides this year.”

While Woods called his 2007 season a great year on the golf course and “the greatest year I’ve ever had off the golf course”, Harrington could only describe his major winning season as “tremendous” and “phenomenal.”

“It was unbelievable to win The Open. I do a lot of talking about having to move on but I'll look back and enjoy this year for a long time," he said.