By Brian Keogh
Major master Tiger Woods welcomed Padraig Harrington to golf’s most exclusive club and confessed: “It was only a matter of time.”
The world No 1 cliched his 13th major win from just 53 starts in sultry Tulsa on Sunday night.
But as shuffled out of the media centre on sore feet after his two-stroke win, he reflected on Harrington’s Open victory at Carnoustie and the painstaking way that the Irish star has re-constructed his game to become a major rival.
Asked what made Tiger Woods so good, Harrington said simply: “He believes.”
But Woods knows that Harrington also has the belief now after proving to himself at Carnoustie that he has what it takes to become a major winner.
Believing you can win is one thing, Woods said, but doing it is another.
Beaming that 1000 megawatt smile, the American megastar added: “Until you’ve actually proven it to yourself that you can get it done, it’s totally different until you do.
“And I think the more times you do it, the more you say to yourself, well I’ve done this before.
“Padraig is mentally very strong. But you also have to remember the things that he’s had to do to get better and how hard he’s worked, changing his swing with Bob.
“He’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen. It was just a matter of time before he won but for him to make the mistake that he did at 18, and it looked like he’d lost the tournament, and then to come back and birdie the very next hole says a lot about the guy.”
Belief is key and on Sunday, Woods drew on his vast experience of 12 previous major wins as well as three US Amateur, three US Junior and a total of 58 tour triumphs, to get the job done.
Woods explained: “I've been in so many different circumstances to try and win championships, to win tournaments, that you start getting a feel how to do it. There is an art to winning and understanding how to do that and how to get it done.
“And when I'm out in these championships, I can always rely on any of those times. And I certainly do. Sometimes it's from my professional days, amateur days, even junior golf days. But when I'm out there, I will reflect back on it on how I got it done and sometimes the circumstances are very similar and that's one of the reasons why I do it.”
Harrington’s major victory was no surprise to Woods, who has twice lost tournaments to the Dubliner in recent years.
But it was no surprise either to Harrington’s close pal Paul McGinley.
The Dubliner has watched his World Cup winning partner transform himself from a grinder who couldn’t strike the ball into one of the top six players in the world and Europe’s first major winner for eight years.
And he believes that Harrington’s swing transformation with Bob Torrance is even more impressive that the work that Nick Faldo did to change his game with David Leadbetter in the 1980s.
Putting Harrington’s achievements in perspective, McGinley explained: “Everyone talks about how Faldo restructured his game. But nobody ever talks about how much Padraig has restructured his game.
“When I first knew him, he didn’t have a game. He couldn’t flight the ball. I played with him in Walker Cup in ‘91 and he hit a low fade, couldn’t get it airborne.
“He has a big high draw now, compared to a fade and he doesn’t get the credit for what he has done with his game.
“Before he started working with Bob, he wasn’t a striker. He was a chipper and putter and got it around. But he couldn’t strike the golf ball and he would admit that too.
“In terms of being a success, I’d much prefer to have a brilliant short game than having a brilliant long game. In terms of the meat in winning tournaments, the short game is far more important.
“Nobody ever gives him the praise. He was born with an unbelievable talent, to chip and putt. That is a great talent to be born with. But everybody wants to refer to ball striking. Everybody wants to talk about that, but the meat of being a successful player is the short game and Padraig was born with that.”
McGinley could also have won the Open - he was tied with Harrington entering the final round. But he was not surprised that his old school chum finally lifted a major title. The ingredients were already there.
McGinley added: ““It really was no surprise that he won an Open. Look at the record he has in the Order of Merit. He nearly won three or four. He was only a putt away from winning three or four.
“Okay, at Carnoustie he was only 1/8th of an inch from being regard in a different light than Open champion, if Sergio Garcia’s putt goes in on the 18th,he would have been lambasted.
“Being consistent doesn’t mean you will win a major. But it puts you in contention and if it is your tournament it is your tournament.
“Order of Merit winners generally get into contention to win majors. Padraig has done that and I am proud of him.
“It was well deserved and it is not like he hasn’t deserved it. He has paid his dues. He has won the Irish Open. He has won the Order of Merit. He has won in America twice. He has broken down a lot of barriers.
“It was not a surprise among his peers. And it fell for him, there is no doubt it. It didn’t fall for Monty. Monty did as much in three or four tournaments. But Monty never took double bogey on the last hole and still won a major.
“It fell for Padraig. If he hadn’t won, he would have been savaged. But look at Monty, who shoots 65 in the last round of the US PGA at Riviera in 1995.
“Steve Elkington shoots 64 to get in a play-off with him and then holes a massive putt to beat him. There was not much luck there for Monty. It didn’t fall for him. But that is the game.”