SOUTHPORT, England -- Padraig Harrington never tires of reading the fine print on the silver claret jug, and as he stood up from a table Monday morning at Royal Birkdale, he slowly turned golf's oldest trophy to see his name on consecutive rows.

There were 126 names. It's also worth noting what wasn't on the jug.

"I don't think this champion has anything to worry about with asterisks etched next to his name," Royal & Ancient chief executive Peter Dawson said. "He proved that last year."

The bluster at the start of this British Open was whether the winner should get full credit because Tiger Woods couldn't play. That was long forgotten after Harrington shot a 32 over his final nine holes in 30 mph wind to follow Woods as a back-to-back champion.

The only question is how much more the Irishman can achieve.

"Winning the first major last year ... the reflection on that was, 'Guys have won one major. Let's try to set yourself apart and win two,"' Harrington said Monday after his four-shot victory moved him up to No. 3 in the world. "Now that I've got two, I'm in a different club now. What's the next club? I will have time to reflect and reset some new goals. You've got to keep pushing."

The next target presumably is winning a major other than the British Open, and his next chance is coming quickly. The PGA Championship starts in only three weeks at Oakland Hills outside Detroit.

But that can wait.

Harrington took a phone call from Mary McAleese, the president of Ireland, and was still sorting through more than 100 text messages. The first sip from the claret jug was John Smith's Smooth Bitter, just like last year, although the champion was pleased that when the party ended about 4 a.m., and he emptied the jug, he tasted a few drops of claret.

This wasn't as exhilarating as his playoff victory at Carnoustie last year over Sergio Garcia, perhaps because that was his first major and the engraver had to wait until the final putt before going to work.

"This time around was a more determined effort. It was more satisfying and in many ways more rewarding," Harrington said. "To have doe it back-to-back is very special. To have two majors is very special. But I think what I take most from it is going out in the last group and performing when I needed to.

"Playing golf in the final round of a major when it's put up to you is a nice feeling."

The presence of 53-year-old Greg Norman with a one-shot lead going to the back nine and Ian Poulter making a late charge in his pink pants made it difficult to appreciate what Harrington did late Sunday afternoon.

Of the last 10 players on the course, nine of them averaged a 40 on the back nine. Harrington shot 32.

Woods won the U.S. Open on one good leg, and to a much lesser extent, it can be said that Harrington won the British Open with only one good hand. He injured his right wrist the Saturday before the British Open by swinging a club into a bean bag, much like Henry Cotton used to swing into a tire to strengthen his wrists.

Harrington has odd practice habits, but they are not without purpose.

He often practices hitting the driver with only his right hand, then only his left hand, and sometimes he putts with one leg on the ground. For years, he's created new drills to keep his interest and challenge his skills.

Harrington has a friend who is a 2-handicap, and they have a running bet that Harrington can beat him with one hand. Harrington also has a wager with another friend that he can exceed 170 mph ball speed by swinging with one hand.

"I can hit one-handed -- this is going to sound ridiculous -- farther than I hit it two-handed," Harrington said. "There is a little practicality. It is working on strengthening my right side and left side, working on speed on the right side and left side. The only time I practice, silly as it may look, is to improve my golf. I never waste any time."

The 36-year-old Harrington is motivated by fear that he is not the greatest talent in golf and must constantly prove himself. He still remembers when he was 18 and dominating junior golf in Ireland, yet a 20-man panel did not put him on the list of best golfers under 21.

"I've never looked like I had the surface talent that many players -- stars of the future -- look to have," he said. "Whoever was picking could find reasons that maybe my swing didn't look right. In many ways, I'd had to deal with that sort of thing. I learned over the years that it's more important what's underneath the surface."

Harrington had a hard time returning the claret jug at the start of the week, which all defending champions do. He mainly kept it on his breakfast table, which is where it was Monday morning as he ate his porridge and looked at the Ryder Cup standings on the Internet, his name atop the list for Europe.

"It was tough giving it back," he said. "I'm going to enjoy it even more."

Harrington took the jug on many journeys last year, none more amusing than his visit to San Francisco. He was in a cab with two friends, the claret jug in its case on his lap, when he noticed the taxi driver wearing a golf glove on his hand. Harrington began chatting about golf without letting on that he was the British Open champion. Only when he got out of the cab did his friends tell the driver that the claret jug was in that case. The cabbie didn't believe a word.

"I did have a call from one of the lads," Harrington said. "And I promised we'd bring the jug to San Francisco and hunt down that taxi driver. That's one thing I'm going to do."

comments powered by Disqus