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Padraig and Tiger: Best of Partners

The two competetive golfers partner up in Atlanta

Posted Aug 08, 2011 by Dermot Gilleece

tiger padraig

Just when it seemed that tournament golf's best of rivals would be paired for a fourth successive round, Tiger Woods and Padraig Harrington were separated by a missed four-foot putt from the Dubliner on the 18th green.  That was the Friday evening of the PGA Championship at Hazeltine National two years ago, when Harrington attempted to take the sting out of his disappointment with the wry comment: "It's not bad to have a day off."

The fact that they’re back together again as partners at the Atlanta Athletic Club this week, should do wonders for Harrington’s fading image, given that most observers see him as having done virtually nothing competitively since Oakland Hills the previous year.  That was when he surprised everybody, himself included, by capturing a third major championship in the space of 13 months.

His critics have tended to overlook the fact that in August 2009, Harrington could have won the Bridgestone Invitational and the 91st PGA Championship in successive weeks.  That was when he and Woods began quite an adventure when coming together on the first tee for the final round at Firestone. Their initial exchange didn't go beyond the essential of ball identification as in "I've a Titleist" from Harrington and "Mine's a Nike" from Woods.

Late that afternoon, the then world number one watched gratefully as Harrington effectively handed him the Bridgestone by running up a triple-bogey eight on Firestone’s treacherous, long 16th.  Five days later, however, genuine warmth and respect for the Dubliner was highlighted by Woods' reaction to a stunning, three-wood shot of 301 yards which Harrington hit out of a bunker onto the green at the 640-yard, par-five 15th in the second round of the PGA.

"I was saying to Steve (caddie Steve Williams) that that was one of the best shots I'd ever seen," said Woods afterwards. "I don't remember what the number was, but you could hear he didn't mis hit it.  He hit it flush, out of an uphill lie in a bunker where you can't use your legs to get any power."

Woods went on: "There was always the chance of slipping but he still hit it flush enough to carry it that far.  It was a pretty impressive shot; definitely worth the price of admission."  For his part, Harrington seemed pleased that Woods considered it worthy of public acknowledgement.  "Actually Tiger did say to me at the time that he would have paid to have seen it," he said.  "So I asked him for 50 bucks."

For Harrington, the rivalry first became meaningful in far off Japan in November 2006, when he beat Woods on the second hole of a play-off for the Dunlop Phoenix Tournament.  "When it was all over," he recalled, "I found myself remarking that Tiger really wants to be pushed, no matter what.  I could sense his excitement, his focus.  Sure he wanted to win, but he also wanted to be pushed.  He wanted the competition."

It then gained dynamic, fresh expression through events at Firestone and in the first two rounds at Hazeltine.  As a Woods associate told me: "Tiger has a deep respect for Padraig and believes he is a really hard-nosed competitor.  In fact he likens him to a pit-bull, with that sort of tenacity.  Socially, the two of them wouldn't have a lot of common, not like established Tiger pals such as Mark O'Meara, John Cook and Mark Calcavecchia, as Isleworth friends and practice partners.  But he really likes the way Padraig plays, respecting the hard work he has done.  He sees him as honest, humble and tough."

Now, two years on, this week’s partners have more in common than even they could have imagined.  While Woods is seeking a way back to prominence following off-course controversy and worrying injuries, Harrington is desperate to prove that he still has much to contribute to the game at major level.  Maybe both of them have climbed their mountain and there are to be no more conquered peaks.  Whatever the game holds in store for them, their group this week will command rather special attention.

- Dermot Gilleece

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