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Harrington to be Europe's Major gladiator at Valhalla
By Michael Gibbons, Europeantour.com
If Padraig Harrington can produce the monstrous form that has seen the Irishman devour three of the last six Major Championships, he will be the most feared of all the European gladiators heading into battle for The 2008 Ryder Cup at Valhalla.
Before his Major Championship breakthrough at Carnoustie 13 months ago, Harrington was one of dozens of world class European golfers considered 'good enough' to rise to the very highest level of performance to claim one of golf's four biggest strokeplay tournaments.
Like all of his fellow European Major contenders, the 36 year old had all the requisite attributes to win a Major. He had the skill, the patience, the work ethic and the hunger - the only thing, it was supposed, that might be missing in Europe's current generation of top players was the ability to cross the line in their heads.
It is indisputable that Tiger Woods' presence in Major Championships since his explosive Masters Tournament victory in 1997 has affected the rest of the best players in the world. Given the World Number One has won 14 out of the 46 Majors he has played since that unbelievable 12-stroke victory at Augusta 11 years ago, it is only natural that every time his fellow competitors see him moving up the leaderboard in a Major arena they begin to feel uneasy.
Woods' domination, coupled with the need to develop a ruthless mindset to cope with the suffocating pressure of closing out a Major Championship victory (not to mention need for a healthy slice of good fortune) were holding Europe's best at bay in the game's most prized tournaments until Harrington lifted the Claret Jug at Carnoustie last year.
The Irishman's maiden Major victory saw him find a new level of mental intensity that he has managed and maintained magnificently for the last 14 months. Who can forget those shark-like eyes, burning with desire in his sudden-death play-off with Sergio Garcia at Carnoustie? Or his face of pure focus and intensity that saw him defend The Open Championship and then add the US PGA title to his Major Championship trophy collection?
The Padraig Harrington in Captain Nick Faldo's European Team Room at Valhalla will be a different animal to the Padraig Harrington who played in the previous four Ryder Cups. This year's Padraig Harrington is the only European player in history to win back to back Major Championships and must be considered one of the most ferocious competitors of the 24 contesting The 2008 Ryder Cup.
Harrington, as well as Garcia and Lee Westwood, will be Faldo's most experienced men and the Dubliner's new status as a dominant force in world golf will surely inspire his team-mates to believe they can record a fourth successive victory.
Faldo certainly thinks so. "Padraig has very valuable status now on the Team," said Europe's Captain. "He is a three-time Major Champion and he is going to be a very dominant factor to this. We can play on that status because America doesn't have any current Major champions in their Team right now."
Harrington's time is now, and if he can dip into his major reserves of mental strength, Europe have every chance of flying home with The Ryder Cup trophy once more.