Harrington hoists second straight Claret Jug

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GOLF/British open

It was a hardy old classic, remade, and not for the first time.

Like Beau Geste or King Kong or Anna Karenina, the saga of Greg Norman's misadventures when leading a major golf championship with 18 holes left to play has had more rewrites - most of them with the same old endings - than absolutely necessary. But at least for this one, no one had terribly Great Expectations.

The greying Great White Shark was, in this edition unlike some when he's been pipped by a miracle shot, simply no match for the fellow with whom he went head-to-head.

Padraig Harrington of Ireland (foreground right) and Greg Norman of Australia (centre) walk down the 18th fairway during the final round of the British Open at the Royal Birkdale golf course in Southport, England on Sunday. Harrington won his second strai

SOUTHPORT, England - It was a hardy old classic, remade, and not for the first time.

Like Beau Geste or King Kong or Anna Karenina, the saga of Greg Norman's misadventures when leading a major golf championship with 18 holes left to play has had more rewrites - most of them with the same old endings - than absolutely necessary. But at least for this one, no one had terribly Great Expectations.

The greying Great White Shark was, in this edition unlike some when he's been pipped by a miracle shot, simply no match for the fellow with whom he went head-to-head.

Sunday, at Royal Birkdale on another in an endless series of wind-hammered days, golf's matinee idol of the 1980s and 90s was soundly drubbed by the wind and the pressure . . . but most of all by the unrelenting excellence of Padraig Harrington.

Five days after making noises as though he might not make it to the starting line let alone the finish, the garrulous 36-year-old Irishman merely won his second straight Open Championship, this one by a resounding four strokes over Englishman Ian Poulter, who made a too-little, too-late run at a title no one but Harrington seemed to want.

Pulling away on the strength of two birdies and an eagle in the last six holes, Harrington shot a one-under-par 69 in conditions that completely flummoxed most of his challengers, and in the crucial final stages he easily survived his only shaky spell, just before the turn, when three consecutive bogeys had briefly handed the lead back to a faltering Norman.

But the 53-year-old Norman's form of the first three days had already deserted him. He bogeyed the first three holes to go from two ahead to one behind, and made just one birdie all day, at the 15th, en route to a lacklustre 77, tying for third with Sweden's Henrik Stenson.

The Shark still hit a great many good shots and putts, but not enough and not good enough in the face of his opponent's confident challenge.

"At the end of the day, Padraig did a tremendous job, and he's a deserving Open champion," said Norman. "I'm disappointed I let it get away, but the disappointment won't last like some of the others I've had before."

"I did tell him coming down 18, that I was sorry it wasn't his story that would be told this evening," a gracious Harrington said. "I did feel that . . . but I wanted to win it myself, too.

"It's a little shinier than I remembered," he said, of the Claret Jug. "They clean it up nicely."

Harrington's famous wrist injury - the one that had him wincing over most of the full shots he tried to hit early in the week and as late as Wednesday's last practice round - turned out to be an absolute red herring, his victory not to be confused with Tiger Woods's on one leg at the U.S. Open a month ago.

"On Wednesday, I had more problems than Tuesday, and I did sit down that night with (golf psychologist) Bob Rotella to talk about playing even if it was uncomfortable, playing through the pain," Harrington said.

"But it wasn't like Tiger's injury, which impaired his ability to play during the tournament. Mine didn't impair me at all, in fact, it kept me from practice, which was a bonus for me because of how tiring it was in these conditions - and a great distraction, because it took my mind off coming in here defending the title."

I did tell him coming down 18, that I was sorry it wasn't his story that would be told this evening. I did feel that . . . but I wanted to win it myself, too.

British Open champion Padraig Harringon, relating a conversation with Greg Norman Calgary's Stephen Ames shot 71 Sunday to finish in a nine-way tie for seventh place, after a stunning series of collapses that included both big scores and the steady drip-drip-drip of bogeys inflicted by the golf course and the wind.

K.J. Choi and Simon Wakefield, who played together in the next-to-last group, each made an eight at the end - Wakefield on the 17th, Choi at the last - to fall completely out of the picture. But Harrington had it by then, and he wasn't letting go.

For just a few moments, when Poulter had birdied the 16th to tie for the lead and had a long eagle putt at the 17th, the title seemed in doubt. But the 32-year-old Englishman, who had stayed hidden in the weeds all day while the leaders came back to him, three-putted 17 for a sorry par. Harrington, meanwhile, made birdies at the 13th and par-five 15th, before nailing the coffin shut emphatically, hitting a perfect 5-wood approach from 249 yards to three feet at the 17th, and making the putt for eagle.

"I have to say, the fact that it was three feet was a bonus, because you can't have too big a lead going down the 18th . . . as I proved last year," said a grinning Harrington, who nearly blew the Open at Carnoustie with a double-bogey on the 72nd hole.

At 53, Norman was on course to become the oldest winner of a major championship in golf history - five years older than Julius Boros when he won the 1968 PGA Championship, seven years older than Jack Nicklaus at the time of his 1986 Masters victory.

But even though he seemed to rise to the call of the British Open, the only major he has won (twice, in 1986 and 1993), in the end he was betrayed by the infrequency of his competitive golf these days, and nerves that hadn't been tested in a very long time.

Most everyone went backwards alarmingly Sunday, and the few who didn't rose quickly into the money.

"It's been a lot of fighting and a little less golf sometimes, but you can't control the weather," said Stenson, who felt he needed birdie but made bogey instead on 18.

A year ago, Harrington was the first Irish champion of the Open in 60 years. Now, a respected Irish journalist noticed, he may be the most accomplished sportsman in his country's history.

"I never at any stage started to think about what it means to win a second Open, or if I did, I stopped myself," said Harrington, who admitted he had some odd thoughts after winning last year.

He thought about simply signing autographs "Paddy" as a time saver, until his caddy talked him out of it and convinced him that it was only proper for an Open champion to sign his full name.

"I don't think winning a second one will get me down to the one name yet," he said. "I'll have to win a few more."

Organizations: Royal Birkdale, U.S. Open

Geographic location: SOUTHPORT, England, Sweden Carnoustie

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