Harrington's Honda resurrection: "When my back is to the wall I tend to hit the shot"

Harrington's Honda resurrection: "When my back is to the wall I tend to hit the shot"

Padraig Harrington doesn't do simple. Needing two pars to win the Honda Classic, he hit a five iron into the water at the 17th and made double bogey. Typical of the man, he didn't panic and made birdie from 18 feet at the last to force a playoff with 21-year old rookie Daniel Berger, which he won when he returned to the scene of the crime for the second extra hole and hit a stunning, five-iron to three feet. Berger was the one to find the water this time.

"I have never had trouble hitting a big shot at a big time," Harrington said. No kidding.

It was the kind of heart-stopping drama he produced to win his third major in 13 months in the 2008 US PGA. And while this win is not as big, it's hugely significant in what it means for the 43-year old's future.

Not only does he regains the PGA Tour card he lost last year, he jumps from 297th to 82nd in the world (a bonus with the Olympics looming in '16), returns to Augusta National for the Masters after a one-year absence and regains some kudos when it comes to looking for major winners this year.

Having felt almost grateful to be in a playoff and dodged a bullet on the first extra hole, the 18th, where Berger missed from 12 feet for birdie and victory, Harrington focussed and produced another of the killer iron shots that had helped him fire a closing 70 to match Berger's six under total of 274.

The Dubin had started the day four shots behind Ian Poulter and Paul Casey on three under with 11 holes to go and was five behind Poulter with only seven holes remaining when everything changed.

Poulter doubled the 11th with what was to be the second of six visits to water of the course of a final round 74 (he also tripled the 14th) and a share of third with Paul Casey (68) and Russell Knox (68) on five under. As Poulter and Patrick Reed faded, it was Harrington who grew stronger, holing putt after putt.

He'd missed two shots putts late on Sunday night when making bogey at the fifth and double bogey at the sixth before play was called for the day.

Lack of light proved to be a blessing for Harrington who worked on the putting green until late, hooked with with Shane Lowry and Stephen Grant for a late dinner and woke up to sound words of encouragement from his wife about his putting.

Remember, she told him, if you have a big putt, there's nobody you'd rather have hit it that yourself.

In the end, Harrington didn't have to hole a putt like the clutch birdie putts he made at the 11th (13ft), 12th (34ft), 13th (7ft) or 14th (15ft) to move into the lead. Then there was that epic, 18 footer on the 18th that snuck in the left edge to force extra time 

Having halved the 18th in par the first time around, they returned to the 17th for the second playoff hole. Harrington, deliberate as always, stepped off his shot twice because of noise from a bin man and hit a three quarter five iron to three feet to set up the win. 

This time it was Berger carved his shot into the lake and Harrington who claimed his first PGA Tour win since the 2008 US PGA, six and a  half years ago.

Berger made five and it was ironic that Harrington could afford to miss a three footer and win this time. He'd already done the hard part by hitting a really big shot at the right time. It wasn't the first time. In the 2007 Open, he made a mess of the 72nd hole and somehow managed to hold it together and give himself a chance in a playoff.

"I have never had trouble hitting a big shot at a big time," Harrington said of his tee shot at the 17th in the playoff. "Sometimes I struggle when I have a lead. I am trying not to bail out on 17 when I was playing it (in regulation), making sure not to hit it left and I did make a bad swing. 

"So I am a better player when I have a lot of clarity so when I came back to it in real time [the playoff] I had to hit the shot. There was no choice. When my back is to the wall I tend to hit the shot. You could see that today for the last nine holes.

"When I got to nine under par [after two rounds] I should have been able to go away from he field at that stage but I didn't in that situation.  Hopefully going forward I have picked up something in my game. 

"Last Saturday at Riviera I had a tough day at the course and players were too tired to practice I went down to the range and I found something."

That mental key helped Harrington build on the positive vibes he had from his win in the Bank Bri Indonesia Open on the Asian Tour in his last start of 2014.

"I won just five tournaments ago in Indonesia, I won the Grand Slam event. There was a time I used to finish second a lot, now I don't get myself into position as much. It was all about getting into contention on the last nine holes.

"When my caddie said to me, 'You are four shy, coming down the stretch, would you have taken this at the start of the week?' And I said absolutely. Any chance coming down the stretch is just where you want to be."

On his putting down the stretch, Harrington said: "I went though the west coast swing and didn't feel like I missed a putt inside four feet on poa annua greens. We come over to the east coast to perfect greens and I think I missed half a dozen inside that range this week. 

"Today, it was all duck or no dinner. There was no putt I was standing over today where I wasn't saying, I've got to hole it. Especially like on 14 there when Patrick (Reed) holed before me. It gives you a certain clarity – I've got to do it.

"I've been good in that type of situation in the past and because I had good memories of those situations. I didn't mind the nerves and things like that

"I hit a bad shot on 17 and played 18 well and hit the shots when the pressure was on. I just need to manage it when the pressure is not on."