Padraig Harrington today revealed the extent to which Greg Norman reached out during and after the 2008 Open Championship the Irishman won from under his nose.
Harrington was not expected to defend his 2007 title at the famed England course – due to host this year’s Championship – after injuring his right wrist in playing on the Saturday beforehand.
He declined to play the course either on Sunday or Monday and it was not until Tuesday afternoon, and further treatment that morning, that Harrington played the back nine at Birkdale, but deliberately avoiding shots from the rough for fear of further injury.
Harrington eventually teed up but was still given little hope of successfully defending his title after shooting a first-round 74 in miserable wet, cold and windy conditions.
A second-round 68 for a two-over par tally put Harrington three behind Korean K.J. Choi while Norman, who was actually on his honeymoon with then wife Chris Evert, signed for a second straight 70.
Norman, then aged 53, became the oldest player in major championship history to hold the 54-hole lead (a record that Tom Watson at age 59 would break a year later at Turnberry), in shooting a 72 for a two-over-par tally.
Harrington ensured he would partner the dual Open winner in the final group by producing a 72 to sit tied in second with Choi (75) at four over.
The unimaginable then unfolded with Harrington defying his critics with a tremendous back nine, that included eagling the long par-five 17th – a shot later voted ‘2008 European Tour Shot of the Year’ – to win by four shots courtesy of his 69.
England's Ian Poulter produced his best finish in a major, signing for a 69 to finish second at seven over par.
Norman, attempting to also become the oldest major champion, stumbled to a 77 to finish tied third with Henrik Stenson on nine over.
I asked Harrington, contesting this week's Honda Classic at PGA National in Florida, if Norman ever spoke to him at length about the events of Sunday 20 July, 2008.
“I talked to Greg a bit afterwards and he couldn't have been nicer on the day or afterwards”, Harrington said today.
“If anything, he was too nice. You've never seen somebody as gracious, as happy for me to have won. I wouldn't have known Greg in his heyday, but I would have assumed he's like most golfers; he'd be a lot harder.
“But I think, you know, at that stage of his career, I'm assuming he had mellowed, and I see it happening to myself.
“I look at young guys now and I'm happy to help them. Whereas 20 years ago, they were my competitors; I keep everything to myself. If I thought I had the secret, it was mine. Whereas now, I think there's enough for everybody out here. So, I'm a little bit more giving, let's say, to players.
“I think that's what I kind of felt from Greg. He was so gracious. He played fabulous golf on the Sunday. He really did hit the golf ball well and things just didn't fall in place for him on the given day and he still came very close to winning.
“So yeah, he was exceptionally gracious and I've talked to him since, and again, (he’s) always stayed that way and genuinely seemed to get the feeling that he was happy for me to win”.