PALM BEACH GARDENS, FL - Padraig Harrington, whose thrilling playoff victory over young upstart Daniel Berger in the Honda Classic was one of golf's Cinderella stories of 2015, has committed to try to recreate the magic in the 2016 edition of the PGA TOUR event to be played February 22-28 at PGA National Resort & Spa.
Harrington, who won the 2005 Honda for his first PGA TOUR victory, ran off four straight birdies in Monday's rain-delayed back nine last year to grab the lead. He lost a stroke with a bogey on the 17th hole, but then sank a 15-footer for birdie on the final hole of regulation to force the playoff.
And then came his best shot of all. Shaking off the demons from his earlier misstep on PGA National's signature 17th hole, the 43-year-old Harrington knocked a five-iron over the water to three-feet on the second playoff hole and made the putt for his first PGA TOUR victory since he won the 2008 PGA Championship at Oakland Hills.
The Honda Classic win put an end to a tough stretch that saw Harrington, an International star who once was the No. 3 player in the world and the winner of three Major championships in his career, lose his TOUR card in 2014. He had fallen to No. 297 in the Official World Golf Ranking. But he never lost his smile and his Honda victory catapulted him back toward respectability. He presently sits at No. 120.
"It has gotten harder to win on the TOUR. The standard keeps going up," Harrington said. "Sometimes to describe it, it's like a 100 meter dash. Everybody lines up at the line and they all just sprint off. If you're not 4 under par after nine holes, you're feeling like, oh my God, how am I going to make it up here.
"On a week like this, it all changes. When you get a tough golf course (PGA National's Champion course), a really tough week, it kind of feels like a major. As you see, guys get away from you and you're not worried. You know that it's hard to be the leader on this golf course, just like it's hard to be the leader at a major. So there is a little bit more patience on a tough course. But yeah, it's much tougher on TOUR now, a lot of really talented players and it's very, very hard. It's a big, big pond out here with a lot of talent in it. There's so much talent; it probably puts a lot of us under a lot of pressure to absolutely play at our very best every week, and maybe sometimes we put ourselves under too much pressure to do that and don't perform."
Winds that gusted to 50 miles-per-hour and brought with them torrential rains washed out play on Saturday and forced a Monday finish in which five players battled that pressure and had a share of the lead at one point.
Berger, a 21-year-old hometown product who grew up a few miles from PGA National and went on to win Rookie of the Year honors, was a tough out in the blustery conditions typical of South Florida in the winter time. He birdied the final two holes of regulation for a final-round 64 and seemed on the cusp of a massive career breakthrough at the early stage of his career. He just missed a 15-footer on the first playoff hole that also would have won.
But Harrington's shot off the 17th tee on the second playoff hole was just too good to beat.
"Believe it or not, when I get in contention, I can still hit the shots," Harrington said. “I definitely felt like I got a second chance coming to the 17th and being first up, I knew I had to hit the shot. I couldn’t afford to bail out.”
The final round began to turn for Harrington on the 11th hole after he badly pulled his drive. He took aim at the flag with a 4-iron and ended up 15-feet away. Harrington sank that for birdie and never looked back, also making birdie on the next three holes.
His wife, Caroline, gave him a pep talk before he went to the course on Monday morning. Every time he stood over a putt, she told him, he should believe that there was no one better suited to take it or make it. “I wasn’t confident, but, you know, I wasn’t getting in my way,” Harrington said. "The one thing you learn is you don't win as often as you think. I'm just enjoying winning the Honda Classic. I'll take it, whatever it is, a week or two, enjoy it and that's it. It's not about what it means to my career or what it means going forward. You don't win that often. When you win, make sure you enjoy it." Harrington took nine weeks off this fall and had a torn meniscus in his knee repaired. But he kicked off 2016 with a sixth-place finish at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Hawaii and pronounced himself healthy and ready to tackle the challenges of a new season.
"You're not sure what to expect, so I was happy with what I saw and kind of, all goes well for the rest of the season," Harrington said.
The Honda Classic awarded $2.555 million in charitable contributions after the 2015 event, about $27,000 more than the previous record of $2.528 million established in 2014. That makes it the ninth straight year that the tournament has elevated the impact it makes on South Florida children's charities through Honda Classic Cares philanthropic initiatives. And this time it was accomplished despite the major expense of cleaning the golf course after Saturday's storms and opening for an extra day on Monday when admission was free.
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