By Bernie McGuire
Monday October 29 2007
Padraig Harrington is heading to this week's European Number One showdown in the best pos-sible form after capturing the Hassan 11 Trophy in Morocco.
In winning by three strokes Harrington also established a number of career firsts, including four victories in a season and a first on the African continent, despite a sometimes agonising last round of a one over par 74 for a 12-under par tally on the Royal Golf Dar Es-Salam course in Rabat.
Harrington began the final day leading by six but struggled with his focus before being jolted into taking back control of the tournament when playing companion and close friend, Darren Clarke, got to within two shots at the 11th hole.
The reigning British Open champion countered by hitting a 5-wood second shot at the 12th hole to 10 feet for birdie and from there on a 21st victory toast seemed never in doubt with Harrington birdieing the last.
Harrington won a first prize cheque of $150,000 and was presented with a ceremonial gold dagger whilst Clarke, who carded a last round of 71, earned a cheque for $80,000.
"I feel very good to have won but it's a different sort of emotion when you are leading and you are kind of expected to win," said Harrington.
"I am relieved to have won because it's tough when you are leading as you are trying to defend so much, and it's not the same emotions when you are chasing so it was difficult to stay positive and you are just not as clearly focussed as you would want to be.
"But when I dropped to only two ahead, that's when I was spurred on because I played a great shot into 12 and apart from a poor shot at 16 I managed to play good golf for those last seven holes. That tends to be the story of my golf because when I'm pushed into things, I tend to play a whole lot better."
And as was the case in July when Harrington headed to Carnoustie with victory in the Irish PGA, he will arrived in Spain later today in the best possible manner as he seeks to retain his European Number One crown at this week's season-ending Volvo Masters.
"You can't beat a win and I'm looking forward to getting out there at Valderrama later this week," he said. "I know that either Justin (Rose) or myself need to finish top-three and whoever manages that will be European Number One.
"But it's nice now to be added to the Hassan 11 honour roll of champions and I'm really pleased to win on the African continent as I haven't done that before.
"It just the Australian continent so we'll see, but for time being it's only to Valderrama where I have another important task."
That Moroccan honour roll includes fellow Major winners Billy Casper (1973, 1975), Lee Trevino (1977), Vijay Singh (1991), Payne Stewart (1992, 1993), Nick Price (1995) and David Toms (1999). Casper, who has been coming to Morocco since the inaugural event in 1971, was among a few thousand gathered around the 18th to applaud the first-ever Irish winner.
Clarke was in a jovial mood in greeting Harrington on the practice putting green with the remark "Nice shirt!" in referring to Harrington's striped orange shirt.
Clarke had to use a replacement putter for the final round after bending one of three he'd brought with him to Morocco following Saturday's play.
He was on the practice putting green and used the club for a stretching exercise but accidentally bent the shaft.
But he heads to this week's Singapore Open on the Asian Tour pleased with his best effort of the year.
"I had some good shots and some not so good ones but I hung in there and managed to ground out second place," he said.
"I really enjoyed the day and especially when I got to within two of Padraig with seven holes but I then hit a poor second shot to 12 whilst he hit a great one and got back it back to three. So from there I just couldn't quite get it close enough.
"I thought at one stage it was game on and to finish second, playing with the Open Champion in the last round sort of tells me that I can't be doing all that bad.
"He said it was awkward out there as he was half-pulling for me as well and that was nice, very nice of him.
"So it's now on to Singapore and I'm looking forward to it, and as I have been saying all year, my game is headed in the right direction."
Meanwhile, India's Jeev Singh, who will defend his Volvo Masters title this week, should have finished tied-third with England's Simon Dyson but he disqualified himself after handing in his score card.
Singh hit a shot from the 11th fairway on Saturday whilst playing the 12th hole but had not been informed by his caddy that the 11th was out-of-bounds.