Padraig Harrington roared back into the world’s Top-50 after an 18-month absence but is was his putting that pleased him most as he captured fourth place in the Volvo Golf Champions.
The Dubliner, 41, birdied the last at Durban Country Club for a four under 68 to finish four shots behind new world No 4 Louis Oosthuizen on 12 under par and get back into the Top 50 for the first time since the end of May 2011.
And while he was delighted to pocket €111,300 and pick up enough world ranking points to rise 11 places to a projected 48th in the world, it was his form with the blade that gave him the biggest boost ahead of next week’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.
“The big plus this week is that I putted well,” said Harrington, who was second only to winner Oosthuizen in the putting statistics at Durban Country Club. “That was a good sign and I’m happy about that going forward.
“I did a lot of work on my putting over the winter. Did a lot of changing. I pulled apart just about everything in my putting. If you told me this was going to be the week I’d have on the greens every week, I’d be a very happy man.”
Shane Lowry closed with a 70 to finish in a seven-way tie for ninth place meaning he will have to wait another week to move into the world’s top 50.
The Offaly man - who played the 273 yard 18th in six under par over the four rounds - was projected to fall one place to 53rd in the world after a round in which he birdied all four par-fives but paid for a bogey at the ninth and a double bogey at the 11th before finishing with a birdie.
The Clara star will still head to Abu Dhabi with high hopes that he can edge closer to his Top-50 goal with two and a half months to go before the cut off for Masters qualification.
But it was Harrington who left South Africa in high spirits after following a bogey at the seventh with five birdies in his last 11 holes.
“I should know at this stage what it is going to be like first week out,” Harrington told European Tour Radio’s Nick Dye. “Tee to green I was very ropey. I hit a lot of bad shots. But I like what I saw today. There was some improvement and I hit better shots and found the middle of the clubface more often.”
After opening with rounds of 70 and 71, Harrington was encouraged by his weekend form.
“I’m looking forward to seeing Pete (Cowen) tomorrow. But I kind of figured out what I was doing wrong overnight and saw some good things… At times I felt quite good.”
The Dubliner began the week recalling his delight at picking up £1,480 for his 49th place finish on his European Tout debut at Durban Country Club in 1996.
But he was almost as pleased with his week’s work as he began his 18th European Tour season with a precious fourth place finish
“The £1,480 felt like more. It was just an awful lot of money. It was the biggest cheque of my life at that stage,” he said. “This is great. This goes into my bank account. But £1,480 really hit home.
“There is nothing wrong with €100,000 at all. It goes into a bank account and we don’t really know much about it. But £1,480 was colossal. What could you buy with that? I think the biggest cheque I had ever received in my life before that was a £300 voucher as an amateur that you couldn’t cash in. I think I won £300 in a Boyne Links pro-am. So it was a big deal.
“It is a bigger deal finishing fourth and the world ranking points today. On the last tee I could see a big pile of guys on 11 under and said, ‘Please, please get out of this.’ All last year I tended to be the wrong side of the bubble so I said, just birdie the last and pick up a few more points.”
Harrington is determined to make sure he is in the world’s top 64 and qualifies or next month’s WGC-Accenture Match Play in Tucson. But while he’s searching for a win that would end a four year drought in Europe and the US, he’s also keen to make sure he’s in the top 50 in March having missed out on last year’s WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral.
“So it’s points I’m looking for. I am looking at that more so than the euro value. But I won’t say no to it. I am pretty sure about what I was doing wrong this week and it will be a lot tougher next week with a cut. I wish they were all like this week.”
Oosthuizen, meanwhile, overhauled Scotland’s Scott Jamieson with a closing 66 to capture the title by a stroke on 16 under after Jamieson’s eagle chip at the last stopped inches away.
It was Oosthuizen’s sixth European Tour title, and moved him to a career-high of fourth place in the World Ranking.
He said: “It’s a great start to the year. I knew I had to come out and get my name up there on the leaderboard, and I was really chuffed to go from five down at the start of the day to tied for the lead after 12 holes. I just played really well all day, even if I made it quite difficult for myself on the last.
“When I finished everybody was congratulating me, but I saw Scott still had chip to force a play-off. That was an unbelievable chip, I thought he’d holed it so I was pretty relieved when it didn’t drop. He played great all week, but today was my day.”
While he led by five shots overnight, Jamieson could only manage a closing 72 but insisted he was pleased to have continued his fine run of recent form, having now finished first, third and second in his last three events.
The Scot, who currently leads The Race to Dubai, said: “Louis is a Major Champion, so there’s no shame in losing to him. I gave it my all, but it wasn’t to be.”
Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee finished third on 14 under par after closing with a round of 68 with Darren Clarke (69) tied for 22nd and Michael Hoey (73) 25th.
272 L Oosthuizen (RSA) 68 64 74 66,
273 S Jamieson (Sco) 69 64 68 72,
274 T Jaidee (Tha) 65 68 73 68,
276 P Harrington (Irl) 70 71 67 68,
277 J Quesne (Fra) 72 67 67 71, D Willett (Eng) 69 70 70 68,
278 B Grace (RSA) 75 67 69 67, P Lawrie (Sco) 69 70 70 69,
279 R Cabrera-Bello (Esp) 72 69 70 68, S Lowry (Irl) 70 69 70 70, R Ramsay (Sco) 69 73 70 67, M Manassero (Ita) 75 69 66 69, F Molinari (Ita) 70 70 68 71, T Björn (Den) 69 70 72 68, N Colsaerts (Bel) 73 67 71 68,
280 J Donaldson (Wal) 69 72 73 66, J Singh (Ind) 69 70 72 69,
281 P Casey (Eng) 74 69 69 69, E Els (RSA) 68 72 71 70,
282 R Goosen (RSA) 72 70 70 70, G Fdez-Castaño (Esp) 75 70 69 68,
283 D Clarke (Nir) 75 68 71 69, H Stenson (Swe) 72 70 70 71,
284 R Rock (Eng) 70 74 70 70,
285 M Hoey (Nir) 72 74 66 73,
286 M Siem (Ger) 74 74 72 66,
288 B Wiesberger (Aut) 76 71 73 68,
289 R Santos (Por) 76 76 65 72,
290 D Fichardt (RSA) 78 70 75 67, C Montgomerie (Sco) 72 78 70 70,
292 T Olesen (Den) 75 72 74 71,
293 J Olazábal (Esp) 74 72 72 75, J Kruger (RSA) 75 73 70 75.