Harrington Overtakes Norman, Wins British Open Golf fans were treated to an exciting British Open over the weekend, as 53-year-old Greg Norman almost became the oldest winner of a major golf tournament. But Irishman Padraig Harrington overcame a wrist injury to win the tournament for a second straight year.
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Harrington Overtakes Norman, Wins British Open

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Harrington Overtakes Norman, Wins British Open

Harrington Overtakes Norman, Wins British Open

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Days after a wrist injury left him uncertain if he'd even finish the first round, Padraig Harrington won his second consecutive British Open yesterday.

Mr. PADRAIG HARRINGTON (Professional Golfer): Definitely, last year was a thrilling win, and it was exciting, and I was on top of the world when I won. This year is more satisfying. I feel more accomplished.

INSKEEP: Harrington shot a brilliant 32 on the final nine holes at Royal Birkdale Golf Club. That's an amazing score, even more amazing under pressure. He pulled away from all his pursuers, most notably Greg Norman, who was trying to become the oldest major champion ever. Commentator John Feinstein is here to discuss a remarkable weekend. John, good morning.

JOHN FEINSTEIN: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Is it now required that all winners of major championships have to heroically overcome an injury?

FEINSTEIN: Yes. In fact, every - there's 18 days until the PGA Championship starts, and all the top players are out trying to get hurt.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FEINSTEIN: Because it's - you know, we're joking, but if you think about it, you know, everybody who won a major championship this year was either recovering from surgery - Trevor Immelman had back surgery in December; Tiger Woods, of course, was playing on the most famous surgical knee in history. And now Padraig Harrington literally, when he went out to warm up Thursday morning because he'd injured his wrist on Saturday night, didn't know if he was going to be able to play. And he said, Steve, that he thought the injury actually helped him because even though he felt the wrist pain, particularly on Thursday and Friday, it took all the pressure of defending his championship off of him because no one expected him to do anything.

INSKEEP: He looked pretty comfortable on Sunday.

FEINSTEIN: Oh, my God, especially on the back nine that you mentioned. He was just hitting one laser shot after another. And he ended up pulling away from the field and winning by four shots. You don't win major championships by four shots very often.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about the guy who looked like he was going to win, Greg Norman, 53 years old, and there's a wicked bit of sports writing from the AP that maybe emphasizes how improbable it was that he would win. After he fell apart on the final day, the AP writes: Now he can get back to his honeymoon with tennis great Chris Evert and return to being a part-time hacker.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FEINSTEIN: I don't know about the hacker part, but he has played very little golf in the last few years. He has not seriously contended in a major since the 1999 Masters, when he finished third. Everybody remembers Greg Norman for his collapses: 1996, when he blew the six-shot lead at the Masters. He's the only player in history to lose playoffs in all four major championships. And you know what? The interesting thing is, Steve, had he somehow won yesterday, it not only would have been an extraordinary story because he would have been four years older than any other major champion, but it would have changed his legacy from a guy who was remembered for how he lost to a guy who was remembered for winning a major at the age of 53.

INSKEEP: Paul Azinger, another great player, said over the weekend that Norman was Tiger Woods before there was a Tiger Woods.

FEINSTEIN: Wrong, wrong, wrong. He was Arnold Palmer. Arnold Palmer was a player with great flair and great charisma who sometimes blew leads, who blew a seven-shot lead at the U.S. Open in 1966. Norman's not as good as Tiger, but he has the kind of flair and charisma that Palmer brought to the game, which is why he's been such a popular player, even though he's only won two major titles.

INSKEEP: So does golf feel as interesting, now that we know Tiger Woods is gone for the season?

FEINSTEIN: It sure did this weekend. I mean, great story lines, whether it was Harrington defending, injured, over there where they love him because he's Irish, or Norman's story or David Duval contending for a while. Golf can survive at least for a few months, maybe a year if it takes that long, without Tiger Woods. But we all know any sport is better when the best player in the game is playing.

INSKEEP: John, good talking with you.

FEINSTEIN: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: Comments from John Feinstein, whose excellent book, "Tales from Q School: Inside Golf's Fifth Major," is now out in paperback.

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