Harrington closes on second British Open title

July 21st, 2008 - 12:35 am ICT by IANS  

By V. Krishnaswamy
Southport (Britain), July 20 (IANS) Wounded defending champion Padraig Harrington, forgetting that he even had an injury, oscillated between agony and ecstasy and grabbed the sole lead for a second time on the final day of the British Open at the Royal Birkdale Sunday and was two ahead with three holes to go. Harrington, starting the day at four-over was just one-over for 15 holes, despite having dropped three bogeys in a row at one stage.

However, the overnight leader Greg Norman was in disarray after being seven-over after 14 and his first birdie of the day at the par-5 15th hole, which still left him at eight-over and three behind Harrington and two behind Poulter.

Playing alongside Harrington, the ageing superstar, ‘Shark’ Norman once again seemed to have lost his bite in the crucial final round as he began with a rash of bogeys.

But before all that the man setting the first target for the day was the flamboyant Ian Poulter who brought in a rare under-round of 69 with a nerve-wracking par putt on the 18th. He finished with seven-over to become the clubhouse leader and close the door on all others who had finished earlier than him.

A little after Poulter finished at seven-over for the week, Harrington birdied the 15th and went two ahead of him and seemed to have placed himself perfectly to take his second Open title running.

Even though Norman started the day two shots clear of the field, he was in disarray being seven-over after 14 holes. He picked a birdie on the 15th but it almost seemed too little too late.

In one of the most gripping British Opens, even the absence of Tiger Woods was a forgotten theme, there were nearly half a dozen players in with a chance to lift the Claret Jug with only a handful of holes left and then it became even closer.

Harrington with a crucial birdie on the 13th seemed to have overcome the demons that saw him bogey three in a row from seventh to ninth. The Irishman was six-under through 9 13, while the ageing and tiring Norman, starting the day two ahead of the field, had ballooned to nine-over being seven-over for 13 holes as the clock refused to move backwards.

Meanwhile Poulter, battled into contention with steady round of one-under through and he was one behind Harrington.

There was also Henrik Stenson, who with two birdies on 15th and 17th, was sole third at one stage.

Norman, two ahead at the start of the day, was one clear of Harrington with the battle heading into the final nine. Norman, four-over for the front nine, was still one ahead of playing partner Harrington, who was three-over for the same stretch.

It was not as if the battle was restricted to this duo. There were others, too, in the race.

Poulter, who started the day at eight-over went to 10-over within three holes, but the birdies on the ninth, 11th and 16th put him into contention. Norman dropped more shots on 10th and 12th to drop to eight-over and Harrington, too, dropped his share to go to seven-over, which made him the joint leader with Poulter.

Playing alongside Poulter was amateur Chris Wood, who had his hour with birdies on seventh and ninth but three bogeys in a row on the back nine from 11th to 13th set him back to 10-over.

The strongest gusts of wind seemed to have been waiting for the leaders to come out on the final day of the 137th British Open. And that saw even the leaders struggling to play par golf, and even that was not easy.

None found it more to their peril than Norman who began with a hat-trick of bogeys and then Harrington, who raised local hopes of a repeat win at the only Major outside the US.

Norman, two clear of the field at the start, dropped a shot at each of the first three holes, while Harrington seemed a picture of poise parring six in a row.

Then it was Harrington’s turn to drop three in a row from seventh to ninth and suddenly Norman was ahead again by one as the players turned into the final nine of the Championship.

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