How things change, Padraig!

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Few sports, if any, see as many dramatic swings as golf and right now Padraig Harrington is better placed than anyone to underline that.

Few sports, if any, see as many dramatic see-saw swings as the game of golf and nobody is better placed right now to underline the truth of that statement than Ireland’s No 1 golfer Padraig Harrington.
After scoring only half-a-point in the Ryder Cup – and this in his own backyard at Dublin’s K Club – Harrington couldn’t have expected too much heading into the last few tournaments of 2006.
Yet, after just four magical turn-around days in Scotland the popular Irishman is heading for an end to the season that could be thrilling as anyone could hope for.
Shrugging away the bad memories of some of his recent disappointments, Harrington considerably upped his ante to come cruising home on Sunday to a five-stroke triumph in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews.
The consequences?
In the same week that a first victory in three years at the Chrysler Classic of Greensboro has stopped Davis Love III’s slide in the World Rankings and boosted him from 26th to 19th, Harrington’s victory and first prize of £427,441 have not only turned around his own fortunes and hoisted him from 19th to 12th in the same World Rankings, it has also lifted Harrington to No 2 on the European Order of Merit List.
What’s more, it has put him in with a realistic chance of finally claiming his first European Merit Order crown after three or four near misses.
He now trails Merit Order leader Paul Casey by just £147,900 after Casey finished in a tie for sixth at St Andrews and has prompted Harrington to change his playing schedule to give himself every chance of catching and overtaking a Casey who has been showing clear signs of mental exhaustion after his victory in the 144-hole HSBC World Match Play Championship and his heroics at the Ryder Cup.
The 35-year-old Irishman had not planned on playing in Spain after trailing Casey by almost half a million pounds but the picture has changed dramatically and the battle to succeed Colin Montgomerie as European number one now seems as if it will definitely go down to the final event of the season, the Volvo Masters at Valderrama, where David Howell and Robert Karlsson are also likely to be other contenders.
“Valderrama has not been the happiest hunting ground for me so anything I can get in Mallorca could push me up a bit,” reasoned Harrington who finished second on the Order of Merit in 2001 and 2002 and third in the following two years.
I have to give myself the best possible chance. .
“It’s huge deal for me, it’s got to be something you want to put onto your CV; the Order of Merit is directly behind the majors.
“This time of year everything is about the Order of Merit, it gets you going again. I’ve been using it as motivation after the Ryder Cup to get out on the golf course and push on.
“If I’d been further back I would have found it harder to come out and play such good golf.”
Harrington began the final round at St Andrews a shot behind Wales’ Bradley Dredge but immediately wiped out that deficit with a birdie on the first.
Dredge went back in front with a birdie on the fifth after a superb long bunker shot from an awkward stance, but Harrington pegged him back again on the ninth.
The key hole was the 11th however, which saw a three-shot swing in the Irishman’s favour. Dredge found Strath bunker off the tee and was forced to play out backwards on his way to a double bogey five, while Harrington holed from 10 feet for a birdie two.
A birdie on the 18th gave Harrington a final-round 68 and a five-shot winning margin over Dredge, Anthony Wall and American Edward Loar, while Ernie Els eagled the last after driving the green to take fifth place on 10 under par.
Casey, who overtook Ryder Cup team-mate Howell on the money list with his win at World Matchplay, led by one shot after an opening 63 at Kingsbarns but struggled to rounds of 74 and 73 at St Andrews and Carnoustie.
“After a tough Friday and Saturday to post a top-six finish is a good result,” said the 29-year-old. “I felt I ground it out well.
“The HSBC was a tough week but the Ryder Cup is, without a doubt, the toughest week I’ve ever experienced in golf, physically and mentally.
“That was very much apparent the week after the K Club and this week was tough as well with the weather.”

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