PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Even in the midst of a drought so long it looked as though Padraig Harrington’s best golf was behind him, he never stopped working.
Harrington won the rain-delayed Honda Classic in a playoff Monday with a 5-iron that settled 3 feet away on the par-3 17th, a shot that put so much pressure on Daniel Berger that the 21-year-old rookie got a little out of rhythm and hit into the water.
There were other key moments in a final round filled with a series of splashes.
Ian Poulter, staked to a three-shot lead in a final round that took two days to complete, hit five balls in the water on four holes that cost him six shots. He finished one shot out of the playoff. Patrick Reed was tied for the lead until he found the water on the 15th hole, and then bogeyed the next two holes.
Not even Harrington was immune. With a one-shot lead, he badly missed his 5-iron on the 17th hole in regulation, went into the water right of the green and made a double bogey to fall one shot behind. Then, the 43-year-old Irishman made a 15-foot birdie putt on the par-5 18th hole for an even-par 70 to force a playoff with Berger, who started the final round nine shots behind and closed with two birdies for a 6-under 64.
It was hard to keep track of who was coming and going until Harrington posed with the crystal trophy.
Lost in all those theatrics were two moments away from the action.
A week ago, Harrington shot a 76 in the third round at Riviera to fall deep out of contention.
“It was an early start, everybody was tired and I heard a couple of players say, ‘I’m finishing for the day and I’m not going to practice,’” Harrington said. “I really wanted to leave. I said, ‘No, I’ll go down to the range.’ And I found something down there. Again, nothing to do with my technique. I found something to do with my focus, and I got a little bit of peace. And probably for 50 percent of the time this week, I had peace out on the golf course.
“I definitely was in a better place.”
And then Sunday night, when the final round was halted by darkness, Harrington went back to work. He missed a pair of short putts in the seven holes he played and fell four shots behind. He had gone through the yips in 2012, and part of him was fearful they might show up again at the worst time. So he was on the putting green at dark, rolling in putts and reminding himself that it was a strength.
“One of the things the things that helped change my putting around was if I had a 10-foot putt to win on the 18th green ... I wouldn’t want anybody else to putt it,” he said. “So as much as I was struggling, I still would choose myself to read that putt and hit that putt.”
His wife, Caroline, reminded him of that in a phone call Monday morning.
Turns out the putt was 15 feet on the 18th green. And it wasn’t to win, but to get into a playoff. It was the most meaningful putt Harrington holed since a 15-footer on the 18th green at Oakland Hills for par that clinched his victory in the 2008 PGA Championship, giving him two straight majors.
That was his last PGA Tour win — until Monday.
Sure, he had won in Indonesia at the end of last year on the Asian Tour, and he had won another Asian Tour event in 2010. Still, this was against the strongest PGA Tour field of the year, and it came with more perks than he was ready to consider.
Harrington lost his PGA Tour card a year ago and had to rely on sponsor exemptions for most of the tournaments, including to the Honda Classic, which he had won in 2005 for his first PGA Tour victory.
Now he is exempt through 2017. He is going to the Masters, which he missed last year. He is in The Players Championship and at least two World Golf Championships. He can control his schedule. He went from No. 297 in the world to a more respectable No. 82.
That could wait.
This was a victory to savor. He was five shots behind and in trouble left of the 11th fairway when he hit a bold 4-iron over the water to 15 feet, the start of four straight birdies. He followed a double bogey with a birdie to get in a playoff. He hit the winning shot. What a long, wet and wild week.
“It’s not about what it means to my career or what it means going forward,” he said. “You don’t win that often. When you win, make sure you enjoy it. So that’s where I’m at the moment. And in time, I will start to see things like invitations to the Masters and that. But right now, I won on the PGA Tour this week, and ... well, actually last week and this week.”
He paused, taking into account that it was Monday, and that his first 61 holes of the Honda Classic technically were played last week.
“It’s amazing how your putting turns around from one week to the next,” he said, smiling at his joke, happy about the moment. He put in the work, and it paid off.