CHASKA, Minn. (AP) — Padraig Harrington is just trying to give the fans what they want.
Harrington helped turn the PGA Championship into a tournament again Saturday. He made Tiger Woods share the lead for about a hole and, despite a bogey on 18, cut Woods’ lead in half going into the final round. After beginning the day with a four-shot lead, Woods finished two strokes ahead of Harrington and Y.E. Yang.
“I get the impression that there’s a lot of people who are cheering me on wanting me to push him along, but they still want Tiger to win,” said Harrington, the defending champion. “That’s fine with me. I’ll serve my time.”
Woods is arguably the most popular athlete in the world – not golfer, athlete – and fans want to see him win. But they want a little excitement, too, Harrington said. He’s no different when he’s watching soccer. Whether he’s watching his own team or some random game, the Irishman said he wants to see a close game, with someone scoring in the final minutes.
“It’s natural, people want Tiger to win, but they don’t want him to win by three or four shots,” Harrington said. “They want him to be pushed and tested and to show his skills. I’m happy to fill that role, and you never know what happens over the last nine holes.”
Especially if Harrington plays the way he did Saturday.
He and Woods have been practically inseparable the last week, dueling in the final round of the Bridgestone and playing together the first two rounds at Hazeltine National. He admitted his focus wasn’t the sharpest in the second round, when he shot a 1-over 73.
But paired with Ross Fisher on Saturday – Woods played with Vijay Singh – Harrington’s only worry was on his own game. He made a 20-footer on No. 8, and birdied two of the first three par-5s. When he made a 10-footer on 14, he had rejoined Woods atop the leaderboard.
Woods, playing two groups behind Harrington, made a birdie of his own 14 to regain sole possession of the lead, and he increased it when Harrington bogeyed 18.
Harrington’s second shot on the par 4 landed in the rough behind the green, and his next shot ran all the way across the green and onto the fringe. It left him with about a 20-footer for par, but he ran it 3 feet past. He finished with a 3-under 69.
“The narrower the gap, the better,” Harrington said.
Of course, Woods is 36-1 when he has the lead going into the final round, 14-0 at the majors.
“Obviously, to get a win, you’ve got to beat him by three tomorrow,” Harrington said. “That’s a tall order but, as I said, everybody who is behind is going to think, ‘Well, we have nothing to lose.’ You’ve got to have that attitude.”
The bogey kept Harrington from being paired with Woods again Sunday. After what happened last weekend – Harrington blew a one-stroke lead at Bridgestone, rushing his way into a stunning meltdown after he was put on the clock – the three-time major champion said he actually would have preferred playing with Tiger again.
Woods and Y.E. Yang will play together, while Harrington will be paired with Henrik Stenson.
“If you’re playing with him, it’s kind of like match play,” Harrington said. “The effect is being there and watching him hit shots and get a feel for how it’s all going. Obviously I’m not going to be in that group, so I’m just going to have to do my own thing.”
Just as Harrington will know where Woods is, though, so too will Woods know where Harrington is.
It makes a difference when someone who’s won a major is lurking, Woods said. They obviously know how to win the big tournaments and how to handle the distractions, and they have added confidence because they’ve already done it.
In addition to last year’s PGA, Harrington won the British Open in 2007 and ’08.
“There’s something to be said for going out in the final round of a major championship and saying, ‘I’ve gotten it done before,”‘ Woods said. “I can say that, Harrington can say that. You understand how to do it, and it’s just a matter of replicating it again.”