By Brian Keogh
World number one Tiger Woods was among the first to congratulate Padraig Harrington on his Open defence on Sunday night, less than a year after predicting that the Dubliner would win more Majors following his breakthrough victory at Carnoustie.
The congratulations came by way of a text message - received within 20 minutes of the finish according to members of Harrington’s inner circle - but the wording will remain a private matter between the game’s top player and the new world number three.
“Padraig got a text from Tiger. But he’s saying nothing,” a friend said. “He was joking there, saying it’s got a confidentiality clause.”
Whatever the text said, it had Harrington beaming from ear to ear in his post-Open press conference at Birkdale last Monday, when he revealed that he had had over 100 texts from well-wishers. “None stood out,” he said. “Well ... there is one. But I’m not telling you about it.”
Unable to chase his 15th Major win after undergoing knee surgery in the wake of his amazing US Open victory at Torrey Pines and out of the game for the rest of the year, Woods spent his idle hours last week texting pals like 1998 champion Mark O’Meara, who revealed: “He's dying. He wanted to be here so bad.”
No doubt, the Californian would have enjoyed another head-to-head with Harrington, having lost to him in the Target World Challenge and the Dunlop Phoenix Tournament in recent years. But that will have to wait until next April, when the pair are expected to challenge for the Masters at Augusta.
Woods knows what it takes to win a Major and when asked about Harrington’s maiden win at Carnoustie last season, he reckoned that the Irish star would use the confidence to win again.
Woods said: “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.”
Many suggested before the Open that there should be an asterisk placed next to the winner’s name, indicating that Woods was conspicuous by his absence.
Of course, he was present at Carnoustie last year, when he finish well outside the play-off between Harrington and Sergio Garcia.
Competitive animal that he is, and given his reaction to his defeat by Darren Clarke in the WGC-World Match Play in 2000, Woods will be relishing the chances to begin a major rivalry with Harrington for golf’s top prizes.
When Clarke beat him at La Costa, Woods left a note of the Ulsterman’s locker that read: “Congratulations. Be proud. It won’t happen again. P.S. You're still a fat f***.”
He’s even carried on a text message interchange with his Isleworth neighbour Annika Sorenstam as they keep count on the major front: Tiger 14, Sorenstam 10.
With regard to Harrington the count now stands at 14-2 and Harrington has no plans to make major changes in his entourage despite the promise of millions in lucrative contracts thanks to his latest success.
“I stopped worrying about the cheques a long time ago,” Harrington said after earning €10,000 in the Irish PGA three weeks ago.
With his five-year Wilson Golf contract due to run out at the end of the year, there has been speculation that Harrington will move to a bigger company in 2009.
But that seems unlikely, given the close relationship the Dubliner has built up with the equipment manufacturers and his immense satisfaction with his equipment at Royal Birkdale last weekend.
No only did Harrington add two long irons from the Ci7 range to his bag, Wilson produced two special wedges for his Open defence that arguably won him the title.
“I changed four clubs from last year,” Harrington said. “I put in two new Wilson TW9 wedges - a lob wedge and a sand wedge. Saw them for the first time two weeks ago and put them straight in the bag. They were superb.
“The lob wedge was a bit more traditional a look and has a bit more bounce on it for the bunkers so it proved a success. But the big plus this week in terms of my clubs was I put in two Ci7 irons, the ones I won in Morocco with last year.
“A couple of weeks ago I was having a friendly game with (caddie) Ronan (Flood) and a few guys. We were on a par three and I hit this long iron in there. It has flown in there okay. But he stood up behind me with his four iron and hit this thing in there with a much better flight.
“He was so comfortable hitting he Ci7s that I thought, what am I doing. I have got to get these clubs in the bag. They paid such a dividends this week. I used the three and the four irons and they were just so easy to hit. It is incredible how well they went.
“When I won in Morocco, I hit them great but at times too powerful. I was thinking, if I was playing in windy conditions I would be using a full set of them. No better golf club have I seen in terms of striking and the ability to go through the wind.
“But that made a huge difference, putting that three iron in this week, especially for off the tee. The three and four iron probably made the difference this week, no doubt about that.”
Despite Woods’ absence from the Open, the BBC were happy with TV viewing figures with 4.7 million tuning in at 7 pm to watch Harrington lift the Claret Jug again.
When Woods won back-to-back Opens at Hoylake in 2006, 4.8 million watched the action. Last year, around 5.7 million saw Harrington beat Sergio Garcia play-off but ratings for this year’s Open were down in the US due to the Tiger-effect.