Harrington comes home third

Brian Keogh in Los Angeles

Padraig Harrington saved the best for last, scorching home in four under under par for a closing three under par 68 to share third place behind Phil Mickelson in the Northern Trust Open at Riviera.

The Dubliner finished alongside Luke Donald on seven under par to claim a huge raft of world ranking and Ryder Cup points as Mickelson (70) survived a final day battle with Jeff Quinney (71) to win by two strokes on 12 under par. and claim his 33rd PGA Tour victory

“It’s very good for the Ryder Cup points,” said European skipper and CBS analyst Nick Faldo as he watched Harrington clinch hsi best finish in American for 18 months. “We’re on countdown now.”

The Dubliner got his final round off to the ideal start when he birdied the first from eight feet after negotiating a tricky downhill chip from some fluffy rough at the back of the green.

But after hard worked pars at the second and third, he bogeyed the 229-yard fourth and par-four seventh after pulled tee shots.

Out in one over par, he got back on track on the back nine with birdies at the 10th and 11th before rolling in a nine-footer at the 15th.

He had a chance to eagle the 588 yard 17th with a 272 yard approach to 10 feet but overestimated its speed and had to settle for a tap in birdie.

Harrington has never considered himself a superstar in the Phil Mickelson mode. Even if he did, he wouldn’t tell you.

Battling to avoid being caught in the stampede to catch the world number two and a winless Jeff Quinney in the final round of last night’s Northern Trust Open at Riviera, the Dubliner was simply trying to take another step forward on a road that leads to big gates at the bottom of Magnolia Lane in Augusta next April.

The Masters is very much on Harrington’s mind as he prepares to move from Los Angeles to Tucson today to prepare for first round clash with Irish-American Jerry Kelly in the Accenture Match Play Championship on Wednesday.

And while he confessed earlier this year that he has become even more obsessive about his practice regime since winning the Open, Harrington has no interest in declaring his intent to challenge Tiger Woods’ supremacy at the top the game.

“Of course I am focussing on the Majors, as I was before I won the Open,” he said at Riviera. “That's the nature of our game. It is all about playing your best in the majors. Getting ready for them. That is what would make me happy at the end of the year, if I feel I have done well in the majors and given them a good run.”

As for catching Tiger, Harrington has never been a man to put unnecessary pressure on himself.

“I just look after myself,” he said pointedly. “There is no point in judging yourself against other players. You judge yourself against yourself. There is no point in including yourself with other people or not. It is irrelevant.

“You just have to do your own thing and judge yourself against yourself at the end of the year. Are you improving? That's all that counts.

“It is irrelevant who is out in front, who you are chasing or who is behind you because you can't control what they are doing.”

Harrington has already set out his goals for 2008. “Plenty of them,” he said. “It is very important to have clear goals. But I am keeping them to myself. Why would I let you judge you by telling you what they are?”

A majestic approach to three and a half feet at Riviera’s daunting 18th allowed Harrington to card a level par 71 on Saturday that left him seven shots adrift of leader Mickelson in a six-way tie for seventh place entering the final round.

A couple of three putts cost him the chance to close the gap on the leaders but as early-season warm up events go, the Northern Trust Open has been a useful exercise for Harrington.

Battling a dose of flu for the entire week, he got his final round off to the ideal start when he birdied the first from eight feet after negotiating a tricky downhill chip. But there were still signs of rust there.

His first error came at the 229-yard fourth, where he tugged a long-iron well left of the green and failed to get his recovery onto the putting surface.

Turning his natural draw into a straighter, held off shot is a move that Harrington believes will eventually pay dividends at Augusta and future majors.

But like Harrington's entire career, it is still a work in progress and he is also experimenting with the lies of his clubs and will have more new equipment to test in Tucson this week.

“His golf swing is working to the left and it causes him to turn the ball over a little more than he really wants it to,” explained Wilson Golf’s tour representative Ron Graham. “He wants more of a straight ball flight as opposed to a big curve. The flatter lies take out some of that draw curve.”

Another bogey at the tough seventh, where he again found trouble in the left rough, saw him turn for home nine strokes behind Mickelson on three under par.

But Mickelson had problems of his own as he bid to convert his 26th career 54-hole lead into his 33rd PGA Tour victory and throw down the gauntlet to Woods, who will be seeking his sixth win on the trot in Arizona this week.

Chasing only title on the west coast swing that has eluded him so far, Mickelson extended his one-stroke overnight lead over former US Amateur champion Quinney to three shots when he birdied the first and his nearest challenger bogeyed the third.

But the birdies dried up for Mickelson who bogeyed the ninth to turn for home one stroke adrift of 29 year old Quinney, who surged into the lead on 12 under par with birdies at the sixth, eighth and ninth.

Harrington, meanwhile, began his back nine with back to back birdies at the 10th and 11th.

The first of them was a superb long pitch up the narrow, sloping green of the 315-yard gem that finished just two feet away and he followed that with a chip-and putt birdied from the apron on the 11th to move into a share of eighth place on five under par.