Harrington lets Tiger make the mistakes

Posted: Monday, December 09, 2002

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- Two holes into the final round, Padraig Harrington extended his lead to eight strokes over Tiger Woods and then braced for the worst Sunday in the Target World Challenge.

''I knew Tiger would come at me,'' Harrington said. ''I heard someone say on No. 13, 'Oh, Tiger is in his head.' I'm thinking, 'He's been in there all day.'''

He had no idea the most crucial mistakes would belong to Woods.

In an exciting end to the silly season, Harrington let Woods back into contention with a double bogey on the 14th hole, then watched the world's No. 1 player fall apart with two bad swings that allowed the Irishman to escape with a two-shot victory.

Harrington closed with a 1-under 71 and won $1 million, the biggest payoff in his career.

''That's like winning the lottery in Ireland,'' Harrington said.

His eight-stroke lead was down to three when Harrington hit a 7-iron that bounced into someone's backyard.

He had to get up-and-down from a fluffy lie on the side of a hill just to make double bogey and keep the lead.

Another meltdown followed, only this one belonged to Woods.

From the middle of the fairway on the par-5 16th, Woods pulled a 3-iron some 40 yards left of the green and into the trees, in such a precarious lie that he couldn't even take a backswing. He hacked out to the bottom of the hill against a branch, punched it through the green and then chipped in for par.

Needing a birdie on the final hole for a chance at a playoff, Woods blocked his approach well right of the green and took bogey.

That was the end of what would have been his best comeback in the final round when paired with the leader. His previous best was four strokes last year to Vijay Singh at Sherwood Country Club.

''I had a pretty good shot at it,'' Woods said. ''I had two bad swings, and that cost me.''

Harrington finished at 268 and won for the third time in the last two months. He also won the Dunhill Links Championship, the richest event on the European tour; and the Asian Open two weeks ago, the first tournament of the 2003 European tour schedule.

This one doesn't count in the record books, although it should go a long way in reminding Harrington that he can compete against the best.

He was paired with Woods in the final group Saturday at the U.S. Open and was blown out of contention, and also finished well back after being paired with Woods the first two days in Ireland for the American Express Championship.

''I count it,'' Harrington said. ''Against Tiger? Yes. Against a world-class field? Yes.''

Harrington more than held his own at Sherwood, although he could have done without the thrills at the end.

''It wouldn't be entertaining without the two of us,'' Harrington said. ''I'm usually the one who is second-best.''

Not this time, in spite of himself.

Harrington's tee shot on No. 14 landed in a large, rectangular area marked ''ground under repair.'' Harrington declined his free drop, because that would have require a sweeping draw around a tree that blocked his flight to the green.

He yanked his approach, anyway, and the ball caromed off a hill left of the green, bounced on a cart path and rolled through a 6-inch gap in an iron fence, stopping just short of coming back through the fence and into play.

His next shot also was left, but stayed on the side of the hill. Harrington played a delicate flop shot to 5 feet and made the putt for double bogey, keeping the lead when Woods missed an 18-foot birdie putt.

Momentum seemed to be in Woods' favor, and the pressure figured to be even more intense for Harrington after squandering such a large lead.

''If you lose it to anybody, it's bad,'' Davis Love III said after finishing his round. ''If you lose it to Tiger, it makes you even more nervous.''

Harrington, however, said he felt confident after escaping with double bogey when the score could have been worse. He played like it, making a good par on the 15th and reaching the 16th in two shots for a routine birdie.

Woods kept it exciting, too.

He chipped in for par to keep within range, then made an 8-footer for birdie on the 17th to close the gap to one stroke.

''I was fighting my swing today,'' Woods said. ''On No. 16, I got stuck and I flipped it. On 18, I got stuck and I blocked it.''

Woods chipped 10 feet by the hole and missed the putt, allowing Harrington to relax for the first time all day.

''Three putts to win? Yes, I was breathing quite comfortably,'' he said.

Love closed with a 65 to finish third at 272, followed by Colin Montgomerie (68) and Bernhard Langer (67).

Woods earned $500,000 for second place, which he donated to his foundation. He now takes four weeks off, returning to the season-opening Mercedes Championships at Kapalua.

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