American Idol - Harrington beats Tiger to PGA Tour gong

Padraig Harrington racked up another victory over Tiger Woods to become the first European winner of the PGA Tour’s Player of the Year award,

And the Dubliner, 37, confessed that it felt as good as winning a Major to come out on top in a vote by the US tour players and deny the injured Woods his tenth Jack Nicklaus Trophy win in the last 12 seasons.

The breakdown of the vote was not released by the PGA Tour and while we’ll never know if it was a squeaker or a landslide, Harrington was ecstatic to get the nod from his peers in a race that also included Vijay Singh, Camilo Villegas and Kenny Perry.

Comparing the honour to elation of winning a Major, Harrington said: "It has been a fantastic season individually, winning a couple of Majors. At the time you win, you feel that nothing could compare to it but to be honest, there is no greater accolade than to receive a reward from your peers and to receive the Player of the Year Award is phenomenal for me.

"It is an individual game but when we are out there competing you do want and crave the respect of your fellow pros. The fact that they have picked me as their Player of the Year, I find that hard to describe.

"I don't feel like I have ever received as high an accolade in my life because it is the players, because it is my peers. I am deeply concerned about their opinion and for them to choose me as their player of the year compares equally to winning a Major championship."

Voted top dog on both sides of the Atlantic, Harrington revealed that he abstained in the vote for both the PGA Tour and European Tour honours and feels fortunate that he managed to deny Woods his tenth Jack Nicklaus Trophy after the American won the US Open on one leg as well as three other PGA Tour titles.

He said: "I didn't ask about the breakdown of the vote and because I thought that would be impolite as it isn't public knowledge. But as far as I am concerned I won by one vote.

"I am realistic enough to know that Tiger's high standards hurt him in winning Player of the Year this year - the fact that he has won it so many times and has achieved to so much.

"What he did this year was exceptional in the six tournaments he played. Winning the US Open on a broken leg is unheard of and he deserved to win Player of the Year.

"If I had done what Tiger has done this year, I probably would have won Player of the Year. It is the baggage that he brings that has forced the players to look at someone like myself, who has had an exceptional year."

This isn’t the first time that Harrington has left Woods in his wake to lift a major prize.

He beat the World No 1 down the stretch to take the 2002 Target World Challenge, denied him in a play-off for the Dunlop Phoenix title in Japan in 2006 and then left the 14-time Major winner five shots adrift to win the 2007 Open at Carnoustie.

Injured Woods was missing from the field when Harrington claimed his back-to-back Major victories in the Open and the US PGA this summer - prompting critics to suggest that there should be an asterisk on the trophies to show that Woods didn’t play.

But Harrington doesn’t care who was missing and confessed that can’t wait to take on Woods next season.

Speaking before he claimed back to back Major at Oakland Hills, Harrington said: “Jack Nicklaus didn't play in the Open Championship either, neither did Arnold Palmer or Ben Hogan. We can list a number of players that weren't there, the greats of the game, so it doesn't work like that.

“You can only win the tournament you're playing in, you can only win the week you're playing and you can only beat the field that are there. So it's irrelevant at the end of the day who is in the field. There will always be somebody missing.”

Instead, Harrington is hoping Woods will have recovered from the knee surgery that has ruled him out of action since June so that he can take on a new challenge from Ireland's greatest ever golfer in 2009.

Harrington said: “I'm really looking forward to Tiger coming back. I hope he plays well when he comes back and that I'll get the chance to pit my game against him.

“Hopefully I have laid down a challenge to him because I think he'll like the competition.

"I don't think that he'd be worried about me - he's wise enough to know he just has to worry about his own game. I just have to do the same.”

Beating Woods to the 2008 PGA Tour Player of the Year award is a major coup for the popular Dubliner.

Since becoming a full-time PGA Tour member in 1997, Woods had captured the Player of the Year award every year except 1998 and 2004, when Mark O’Meara and Vijay Singh claimed the silverware.

Harrington becomes the fourth non-American to receive the accolade since it started in 1990, emulating Zimbabwe's Nick Price (1993-94), Australian Greg Norman (1995) and Singh (2004).

Debate raged over who had the better 2008 season: Harrington with back to back Major wins or Woods, who won the US Open on one leg and claimed another three wins from just six PGA Tour starts.

But in the end,  the tour players gave the nod to Harrington, who made the first successful defence of The Open by a European for 102 years and then three weeks later became the first  European since 1930 to win the US PGA title.

At least two former Major winners were on Harrington’s side, though only one had a vote.

Former British Open champion David Duval reflected on Woods’ brilliance but opted for Harrington, explaining: “It sure looked like it might have been a walkaway (for Tiger). But the fact is, he didn't play. Who knows what would have happened?

“You're assuming he would have played that way all year. I don't think that's fair for a player who played all year and won two majors."

Johnny Miller, a former Open and US Open champion added, “His two majors surpass Tiger's one major and three other tour victories. I don't think even Tiger would dispute that Padraig's second half of the season was better than Tiger's first half.

“A vote for Tiger is essentially saying that had there been no knee injury he would have won one of the majors that Padraig did.

“But there is no assurance that Tiger would have won the British or PGA, and you can't give him credit for winning majors he didn't play.”

While Harrington trails Woods 14-3 in the Major stakes, he is closing the gap on six-time winner Nick Faldo as the greatest European player in the modern era.

Last month, Harrington matched Faldo when he became just the second European to win the PGA of America’s Player of the Year Award, pushing Woods into second place.

Harrington then claimed 75 percent of the vote when he beat Woods to claim the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year award - ending the American’s run of three in a row and denying him a 10th gong.

Woods wasn’t eligible to win the Europe-based Golf Writers’ Trophy, which Harrington retained this week to join Tony Jacklin and Peter Oosterhuis as the only men to claim that award two years running.

But his victory in a vote by his fellow professional gave him the most satisfaction and he has been instrumental along with Darren Clarke in pushing for a Players’ Player of the Year award on the European Tour.

At November’s Volvo Masters, Harrington said: “I’ve been saying for a number of years that it’s crazy that the media votes on who is the player of the year. Of course there should be a press player of the year but there should be a Players’ Player of the Year. There’s nothing like being voted into something by your peers. I think that would seem to make sense.

“It only came to my attention once I got into the position to win the Golfer of Year award in Europe that it that it’s not the players who vote in it.  Obviously that’s what they do in the States and to be awarded something by your peers is a very special thing and I think there should be an addition of it in Europe.”

European Tour boss George O’Grady has agreed to the idea, explaining: “We are about to have a Players’ Player of the Year award, and we might use the model of Seve's hands on the golf club on the trophy that goes with it.”

Bernhard Langer was named Player and Rookie of the Year on the Champions Tour. Argentina’s Andres Romero was named PGA TOUR Rookie of the Year, while Dudley Hart earned PGA TOUR Comeback Player of the Year. 

Zimbabwe’s Brendon de Jonge was the Nationwide Tour’s Player of the Year.


PGA Tour Player of the Year winners (Jack Nicklaus Trophy)

2008 Padraig Harrington


2007 Tiger Woods

2006 Tiger Woods

2005 Tiger Woods

2004 Vijay Singh

2003 Tiger Woods

2002 Tiger Woods

2001 Tiger Woods

2000 Tiger Woods

1999 Tiger Woods

1998 Mark O’Meara

1997 Tiger Woods

1996 Tom Lehman

1995 Greg Norman

1994 Nick Price

1993 Nick Price

1992 Fred Couples

1991 Fred Couples

1990 Wayne Levi