The 10 keys to becoming the 10th champion


The 10 keys to becoming the 10th champion

How it all came together for Padraig Harrington to become, at the age of 46, the oldest winner of the Portugal Masters

Portugal Masters - Day Three1- AN EXPLOSIVE START | Of all the Portugal Masters champions none has started as well as Padraig Harrington. Metaphorically speaking he was the fastest off the line from 0 to 100 km. Beginning his first round from the tenth, he was 6 under par after just 8 holes – the result of four birdies and an eagle two at the 15th (his sixth hole). Even Alexander Levy, who holds the record for the lowest first round by a Masters champion (a 63 in 2014) was only 3 under after his first six holes. Harrington finished that opening round with a 66, the same score as the first three Portugal Masters champions (Steve Webster, Alvaro Quiros and Lee Westwood respectively) at a time when the Victoria course was still a par-72 (it changed to a par-71 in 2011). In fact Harrington’s fast start was extremely important because he lost some inspiration on the greens over his remaining ten holes and played them in one over par. He then retired to the practise green, fixed his putting woes, and the following day posted an eight under par 63! 

Portugal Masters - Day Four

2 – PUBLIC SUPPORT | In 2012 those who followed Shane Lowry as he marched towards the title would probably agree that the Irishman seemed to be playing at home because of the huge support he received from hundreds of his compatriots. And when Englishman Ross Fisher missed a short putt on the 18th green to hand Lowry victory, it felt like he’d scored an own goal at an opponent’s football stadium. Harrington, the second Irishman to win the Portugal Masters, felt that same support on the Victoria course, “There were so many Irish people in the crowds. In fact I always felt like this place was a home away from home, so it’s great to have won the tournament.” But the triple major champion hadn’t forgotten the Portuguese public, “I get a lot of support from them as well. My original golf coach, Harold Bennett and his son Tony, were some of the first coaches at the Portuguese Golf Federation. So I’ve always had a bit of an affinity for Portugal. It’s a place where I’ve always felt very well received.”

3- COURSE KNOWLEDGE | Harrington’s first appearance at the Portugal Masters in 2009 resulted in a highly commendable third place finish – just behind the winner Lee Westwood and runner-up Francesco Molinari. In both 2011 and 2012 he finished tied 16th, in 2014 tied 47th and in 2015 tied 31st. So before his victory in October he’d never missed a cut at the Masters and had played the Victoria course on no less than twenty-four occasions. Of course this can’t be compared with those players who’ve never missed a cut in all ten editions of the Masters: Alvaro Quiros, Robert Rock, Anthony Wall, Raphael Jacquelin and Marcel Siem. But Padraig’s six appearances in Portugal’s biggest golf tournament were more than enough to help him feel comfortable and in familiar territory. “It’s an interesting course which provides numerous birdie opportunities and a wide variety of challenging shots where water comes into play” according to our tenth Masters champion.

Portugal Masters - Day One

4 – CONFIDENCE | So what sort of year was Padraig Harrington having before winning the Portugal Masters? Well it wasn’t outstanding, especially for a player of his pedigree: he was lying 97th in the Race to Dubai Rankings following his best finish of the year – a 13th place in the US PGA Championship, the fourth and final major of the year and a tournament he won in 2008. But none of this affected him because he believed he could win at any moment: “For several months I’ve been playing well in terms of control over the golf ball and feeling comfortable with my swing, and that in turn enables me to focus more on the mental side of my game, which is always a good sign. I’ve been putting better and making more middle distance putts than at any time in my career. And I’ve been telling people that when I get both things working at the same time I’m going to have a winning week.” And that week just happened to be at the 10th Portugal Masters!

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5 – DAVE ALRED’S BOOK | Padraig admitted that the “secret” to his victory was in the book, “The Pressure Principle”, published recently by his coach, Dave Alred, a leading expert in mental preparation and performance. The Dubliner was reading it during the Portugal Masters and it clearly helped him to win in Vilamoura. It gave him a few pointers that he was possibly neglecting and which he could hold on to during the week. In other words it helped him to convert the trust he had in his game into results. As he explained: “Of course I know the book very well, but a chapter on self-talk stuck in my mind. I’ve been very relaxed about my golf, but it added a new dimension. It’s not just about being positive, it’s also being aware of becoming negative. I could see a mental change in my self-talk language was creating a physical change in my posture.”

 

6 – AGGRESSION | This is what Harrington had to say about his performance in Vilamoura: “I tried to be really aggressive. The course suited me and I decided to simply attack as many flags as possible. Because of the type of rough and the texture of the greens, I never thought I’d be on the short side.” Who dares wins, and Harrington finished with a record equalling total of 261 (23 under par), a milestone established the previous year by Andy Sullivan, this year’s runner-up who finished a mere shot adrift of the Irishman. Harrington’s total was also the lowest of the season on the European Tour. He made 26 birdies and 1 eagle against 5 bogeys. By comparison, in 2015 Sullivan made 26 birdies against 3 bogeys. But while Sullivan began the final round with a comfortable lead and strolled to victory, the Irishman had to fight all the way against some fierce competition.

Portugal Masters - Day Four7 – SHORT GAME | Padraig’s aggressiveness that we mentioned earlier was only possible due to a masterful short game that he exhibited throughout the tournament. “I’ve a pretty good short game and it was on form this week, and I’ve putted well – making more middle distance putts than at any time in my career. I felt very comfortable around the greens. Wherever I ended up I felt I could get up & down.” Proof of that was the way he sealed victory on the final hole. Defending champion Sullivan was following the final group’s 72nd hole drama on television – a bogey by Harrington would have meant a sudden death play-off. But instead he watched him make a fantastic chip & putt to secure a par and shoot a bogey free 65. Harrington later acknowledged that the excellent condition of the greens had helped him: “They were great for getting the ball to roll. On putts between four and six metres, we didn’t have to think about the speed, we just ran the ball towards the hole.”

8 – STARTING FROM BEHIND THE LEADERS | Padraig Harrington’s progress throughout the 2016 Portugal Masters was as follows: after the first round he was tied 12th, after 36 holes tied 3rd and after 54 holes he was in joint 2nd place one shot behind the leaders – Anders Hansen and Mikko Korhonen. Statistically this put him at an advantage because only two of the previous nine champions had led the field before starting the final round: Alvaro Quiros in 2008 and Andy Sullivan in 2015. But there’s also a mental element as Harrington explained: “Definitely it’s easier, or should I say, less stressful starting from behind. If you’re behind you can make some early birdies and gain momentum for the back nine, whereas the leaders are always looking to avoid making a mistake, it’s just like that.” In the history of the Portugal Masters the largest comeback on the final day belongs to Australian Richard Green: in 2010 he was in tied 15th place after three rounds, seven shots behind leader Spaniard Pablo Martin, but would eventually win by two shots.

Portugal Masters - Day Four9 – MOMENTUM | “There’s always a turning point during the final round,” said Padraig Harrington before adding: “I was playing well, but my shot from the bunker on the 11th gave me the feeling that it was going to be my day. When you do something like that on the last round we always have the feeling that this could be our day … There’s a point when we can either grab or lose the opportunity and, regardless of what happens afterwards, we can look back at that moment.” In this case he liked what he saw. It was an emotional last round – the top of the leader board changed on numerous occasions – and the outcome was decided by the last putt on the last green in the final group. When Anders Hansen made his third consecutive birdie on the 6th hole, Harrington was three shots behind the leader, but that gap was reduced to two with a birdie on the 7th. The 11th hole then produced one of the biggest moments of the day (and the tournament) when Padraig holed out directly from the left hand greenside bunker. It’s called momentum – and Harrington knew how to take advantage of it because on the 12th hole he made yet another birdie.

Portugal Masters - Day Four

10 – HE MISSED WINNING IN EUROPE | Although it seems almost impossible, Padraig Harrington’s victory was his first success on the European Tour since July 2008, when he became the first European player since James Braid in 1906 to win consecutive British Opens. Ending an eight year victory drought was undoubtedly an additional motivation for the Irishman, and who could have failed to notice the return of his trademark focus – a visual intensity that characterised so many of his previous triumphs. So how did it feel to be back in the winner’s circle? “I’ve won elsewhere in recent years. I won last year in the United States and in Asia. I’ve earned enough to keep going, but it’s nice to win in Europe and it’s always important to win every decade,” he answered. Indeed his first victory on the Tour was at the Spanish Open in 1996, so it’s now been a win in each of the past three decades. The Portugal Masters was his 15th triumph on the European Tour and his 30th worldwide. And at 46 years of age he became the oldest winner of the Masters, surpassing Englishman David Lynn who was 39 when he lifted the trophy in 2013.

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