Harrington is Europe’s best bet at PGA

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Associated Press

BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. – Padraig Harrington is Europe’s best hope to end a 78-year wait for a winner at the PGA Championship.

Ever since Scotland’s Tommy Armour beat Gene Sarazen, 1 up, to win the 1930 tournament (then following a match-play format) fans across the pond have had little to cheer about in the last major championship of the season.

“It’s the same old question arises every time,” Englishman Ian Poulter said when asked why the drought has lasted so long.

But there are several reasons why that losing streak might finally come to an end.

First, Harrington has won two of the last five major titles and that may be enough to stamp him as the man to beat when the PGA Championship gets under way Thursday at Oakland Hills in suburban Detroit.

Second, with Tiger Woods still recovering from season-ending knee surgery, few other players have taken advantage by playing consistently well.

Third, the storied old Donald Ross layout has hosted many major, international tournaments, but the last one provides a scrapbook of sweet memories for the Euros.

The European team captured the 2004 Ryder Cup by a landslide 181/2-91/2 margin. They danced on the 18th green, sprayed champagne on each other and reveled in victory.

And now almost all of them feel that, since they’ve won collectively on the course, why shouldn’t one of them do it again?

There are plenty of holdovers from that team who might break the jinx, but Harrington tops the list based on his performance at Carnoustie in 2007 and at Royal Birkdale last month.

Harrington doesn’t shy away from such talk.

“Will I be ready? I think I will be ready,” Harrington said Tuesday. “I’m reasonably confident that I can get my game

in shape come Thursday. It is a tough golf course, which suits me. (But) I’m pretty comfortable with the test ahead.”

Like his teammates, he still smiles whenever he thinks back to the last time he played a competitive round at Oakland Hills.

“Yeah, I have good memories of this golf course,” he said.

But Harrington isn’t the only Euro who figures to contend.

Sergio Garcia, of course, is tabbed by many as “best player in the world to have never won a major.” He played well for the Euros in 2004. He also has a history of playing well in the PGA Championship, finishing second to Woods in that memorable breakout tournament in 1999 at Medinah.

Now he is buoyed by warm recollections of what happened four years ago at Oakland Hills.

“It was a great week,” he said of the Ryder victory. “I remember obviously beating Phil (Mickelson) on Sunday (3-2 in singles). That was nice. The whole week itself was unforgettable.”

Poulter, who has been solid in this year’s majors, might again be a factor. He played just two Ryder Cup matches in 2004 but for a then-28-year-old playing in his first international team competition, it was a magical time.

“It was nice to go on the practice ground today. You could kind of picture the way the stands were, where all the signs were, all of that,” he said. “Obviously those happy memories are around this golf course.”

The 156-player field also includes several other members of that European team, any of whom have enough game — and enough happy memories — to grab the title, including Darren Clarke, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Paul Casey and Lee Westwood.

Casey believes with no Tiger prowling Oakland Hills, it’s anybody’s tournament.

“There’s probably 20 or 30 guys here who are very, very capable of winning it — maybe even more,” he said. “We’ve seen in the past a lot of guys come from out of the field. Where you are in the world rankings doesn’t necessarily mean anything nowadays. Guys are so good.”

Westwood is coming off a strong finish at the Bridgestone last week and likes how he’s playing.

“You look at my record, when I get on a roll I tend to stay on that roll for a good while,” he said. “And when I win, I win a few tournaments in a block.”

Should he win this weekend, Westwood’s statement could portend a particularly bleak autumn for members of the U.S. team.

After all, the Ryder Cup matches at Valhalla are just around the corner.

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