Few people believe that Pádraig Harrington can win a fourth major but averaging 25 putts per day and shooting the lowest winning aggregate of his 21-year professional career to claim the Portugal Masters, writing him off now would be the height of folly.
The 45-year old Dubliner insisted just minutes after the Ryder Cup ended three weeks ago that he wants to play in 2018 in Paris rather than captain Europe.
He clearly has unfinished business on tour and after carding a six under par 65 that featured a devastating display of short game brilliance and an eye-popping performance with the putter, it may be some time before he’s ready to hang up the spikes and reach for the keys to the captain’s buggy.
Three up-and-downs on the last three holes gave Harrington a one-shot win over current Ryder Cup player Andy Sullivan, the defending champion, on 23 under par.
And he insisted afterwards that while the course was right up his street — light rough and receptive greens allowing him the freedom to shoot at every pin with impunity given his short game sharpness — it was the mental game that made the difference.
“I was in a nice place mentally,” Harrington insisted. “I’ve been reading Dave Alred’s ‘The Pressure Principle’ and it gave me a few pointers that maybe I’d been missing out on and I stuck to those all week.
“It was a big plus for me. I just realised how poor my own language is about myself and my game.
"So I was very focused on my self-talk this week and what I was saying to myself and very focused on my posture walking around on the golf course and it was a tremendous help.”
The full title of the book is,“The Pressure Principle: Handle Stress, Harness Energy, and Perform When It Counts” and Harrington certainly did that at Vilamoura’s Victoria Clube de Golfe”.
It might have been The K Club or Fota Island, given the huge Irish presence for a final round that saw the three-time major winner go out just a shot behind co-leaders Anders Hansen of Denmark and Finn Mikko Korhonen
“I’ve been coming here since 1990 with the GUI,” Harrington said of those early coaching trips with Howard Bennett. “Oceanico was owned by -- well, it was owned by the Irish government I suppose the last number of years but before that it was owned by an Irish connection, staying down at Quinta do Lago.
"There are a lot of Irish connections and Irish fans here, so it’s a place I’ve always felt comfortable and enjoyed coming to.”
With Michael Hoey losing his card and Paul Dunne missing the cut but keeping his with €10,000 to spare as David Howell took the crucial 111th spot by €100 from compatriot Graeme Storm, Irish fans flocked to cheer on Harrington over the weekend.
He loved the attention.
“The atmosphere, the cheering, the bit of buzz I was getting — I haven’t been getting that because I’m not on the top of the leaderboard as much — it was nice to get it this week and have that support,” Harrington said
“I was watching it today, grown men and women running around to get in the right place so that they could cheer you on.
“You could see them skipping through the ropes and around the back of the tee so they could get the right position to support you. It’s nice.”
The veteran started slowly and while he birdied the second and seventh, he had to hole a bunker shot for birdie at the 11th to get within one shot of the Hansen, who eventually finished two behind in third after a cold putter forced him to settle for a 68.
Defending champion Sullivan turned out to be the man to beat, carding a 65 in the penultimate group to set the target at 22 under par.
But Harrington showed all his old fighting qualities and displaying the mesmeric short game skills of old, he answered every question posed to him, carding 32 on the back nine to bring back memories of those major wins.
"That was my goal at the start of the week to be very aggressive to all the pin positions, working on the principle that if I missed the green, I would get up-and-down," Harrington said.
"My short game was sharp this week and I just saw over the last couple of holes, I was able to get up-and-down when I missed greens."
After holing his bunker shot at the 11th to get to within one of the lead, he birded the 12th and 14th to take the lead and never looked back.
A missed green meant nothing, so confident did he feel in his putting and after getting up and down for par at the 16th and for birdie at the 17th to edge ahead of Sullivan again, he got up and down again for a winning par at the 18th, calmly holing a five footer for the 31st win of his professional career.
“My putting has turned the corner recently,” said Harrington, whose had just 100 putts for the week after holing out four times from off the green. “Actually I putted very well from medium-range to outer ranges this week.
“Even though I did miss a few earlier on in the week, my short putting was good and my chipping was outstanding.
“I don't think I failed to get up-and-down at all this week, and had two chip-ins and a holed bunker shot.
“When I go back and look at my stats for scrambling this week, I would say I was better than 100 percent.”
His dream now is to get back to Augusta National for the Masters and he must now decided how best to get back into the world’s Top 50.
Up to 43rd from 95th in the Race to Dubai thanks to his winner’s cheque for €333,330, he’s set to jump from 159th to around 96th in the world but must now decide between finishing the season in Europe or the US, where a win between now and April would write a ticket to Augusta.
“I have to figure out what's my best chance of getting in there,” he said. “I have three more events now. The question is going to be whether they are on the US Tour or European Tour.”
Winning another major is a different prospect to winning the Portugal Masters but Harrington knows that if he can consistently put himself in contention for wins, he'll be better prepared than most to take advantage of any more chances that come his way.
He knows that winning a major is not going to be like pulling a good prize out of a lucky bag and getting his game back to a consistently high level is key.
Having won three majors and contended for a fourth at St Andrews in last year’s Open Championship, Harrington knows that he can win another if he puts himself in position.
The problem is surviving the first 63 holes of the tournament and that requires not just three and a half rounds of top class golf but a consistent game.
“There is no doubt, for me at last, you have to be contending and getting in there,” he said when dismissing a major win coming out of the blue.
“I would hopefully take the chance if I wasn’t up there contending in the build up. But ideally I would build my way up to it and I feel good about the game. The mental side of the game is where it is at.”
With this win - Padraig Harrington - European Tour
- SUNDAY 23 OCTOBER, 2016 - PORTUGAL MASTERS
- His 15th European Tour International Schedule victory in his 393rd official European Tour event.
- Moves to 605,671 points in the Race to Dubai.
- Could move back into the top 100 in the Official World Golf Ranking from 159th.
- His first European Tour victory since the 2008 US PGA Championship. A gap of eight years and 74 days. This represents the biggest gap between European Tour victories during his European Tour career.
- In that time has played in 115 European Tour events between victories.
- This victory beats his previous best European Tour finishes since the 2008 US PGA Championship of second in the 2010 Irish Open and tied second in the 2009 WGC – Bridgestone Invitational.
- This victory beats his previous best 2016 European Tour performance of tied 13th in the US PGA Championship.
- Victory comes in his sixth appearance in the Portugal Masters.
- This victory beats his previous best performance in the Portugal Masters of third on his debut in 2009.
- The second Irishman to win the Portugal Masters, following Shane Lowry in 2012.
- Becomes the first player from the Republic of Ireland to win on the European Tour since Shane Lowry won the 2012 Portugal Masters.
- Becomes the tenth different player to win the Portugal Masters in the event’s ten year history.
- Becomes the seventh golfer from England and the Republic of Ireland to win the Portugal Masters from the ten years of the tournament.
- His first regular European Tour victory since the 2007 Irish Open.
- Aged 45 years and 53 days becomes the oldest winner of the Portugal Masters, beating the previous record of David Lynn, who was 39 years and 358 days in 2013.
- His first European Tour victory since passing 40.
- Aged 45 years and 53 days becomes the sixth victory by a player aged 40 or over to win on the European Tour this season. They are: Scott Hend (43), Henrik Stenson (40, two wins), Thongchai Jaidee (46), Anthony Wall (41) and Padraig Harrington (45).
- His 72 hole total of 261 (-23) equals the lowest in the history of the Portugal Masters, set by Andy Sullivan inn 2015.
- His winning total of 261 is the lowest of the 2016 season, beating the 262 of Francesco Molinari at the Italian Open.
- His winning total in relation to par of 23 under equals the lowest of the 2016 season set by Tyrrell Hatton at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.
- The 50th victory for the Republic of Ireland in European Tour history.
- His 15th European Tour victory moves him out on his own at the top of the list of most Irish victories on the European Tour.
- Moves into sixth place in the list for the biggest gap between first and latest victories in European Tour history, with a gap of 20 years and 164 days. His first win was the 1996 Open de España
- His 30th win as a professional worldwide.