At the US Open, the man who has won more major championships than any golfer since 2007 finally was back in the conversation.
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Tiger Woods and Angel Cabrera have claimed multiple major titles during that span, but no one can match the trophies that golf’s forgotten man has on his shelf from the past 5-1/2 years.
Even though he has had trouble putting up consistent numbers since, Padraig Harrington, who tied for fourth at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, knows the score.
"No one has won more major championships over that period than I have. No one," said Harrington, who will continue to try to find his game this week in the Travelers Championship at Cromwell, Conn.
The affable Irishman believes he can find the form that took him to British Open titles in 2007 and 2008, at Carnoustie and Royal Birkdale, and the 2008 PGA Championship, at Oakland Hills, all in a 13-month span.
At a time when Woods was sidelined by knee surgery following his victory in the 2008 US Open, Harrington was considered the best golfer in the world.
Since then, his only titles have come in the 2009 Irish PGA Championship and the 2010 Iskandar Johor Open in Asia.
Harrington undertook dramatic swing changes under Bob Torrance, his longtime swing coach, who disagreed with the tactic and eventually was fired. Torrance contended that such a change would have been feasible when Harrington was in his 20s, but not now for the 40-year-old.
Torrance’s opinion might have credence when you look at Woods, who went from the swing he had as a youngster to the Butch Harmon swing, then the Hank Haney swing, and has had more trouble mastering the Sean Foley swing in his mid-30s.
Harrington, however, presses on with a new swing guru, Pete Cowen, and mental coach Dave Alred, who has helped Luke Donald become No. 1 in the world.
"Perhaps the biggest mistake I’ve made over the last three years is underestimating the amount of attention there would be in what I was doing," said Harrington, whom Torrance transformed from an amateur who drove the ball short and crooked into a major champion.
"I just continued doing what I do, changing, and telling people what I was doing. Much as I don’t read anything that is written about me, the interest in me brings its own kind of pressure.
"There’s no doubt I’ve got scar tissue, but if you asked me if I would rather be 24 with no majors or 40 with three in the bag, I’d go with the latter. With the experience I have, I know I am going to be competing for a few years yet."
Harrington has had his moments earlier this year, such as shooting a career-best 10-under-par 61 in the first round of the Transitions Championship, although he could not break 70 the rest of the way and tied for 20th.
And he tied for eighth in the Masters, his best result in a major since the victory at Oakland Hills. His finish at the Olympic Club shows that he has his major mojo back heading to the British Open next month at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.
"I felt I’ve played better than (the results have shown) for the last 18 months," said Harrington, who has played in six consecutive Ryder Cups but is in danger of being left off the European team for the matches in September at Medinah. "But I’m playing better again now.
" . . . Probably the hardest part is you’ve been asked questions that you don’t have the answer to. You try to explain it, and maybe explaining it digs you into a deeper hole that you’re still trying to explain your way out."
Like golfers from Ben Hogan to Woods, Harrington made dramatic changes in his swing while at the top in an effort to get even better, to win even more major championships.
Instead, he went the way of David Duval and Ian Baker-Finch, major champions who virtually disappeared from the golf landscape. Still trying to make his way back, Harrington tries to look at things logically.
"It’s not like I was going to win two a year after that," Harrington said. "I may go on and win more majors, but if you look at the likes of, say, (Nick) Faldo, who has won the most majors of any European, six, he didn’t win them over a space of two or three years."
True, but Sir Nick didn’t virtually disappear in those other years, either.