Tiger Woods rarely gives up a three-stroke lead on the final day and almost never loses in a playoff. But that's what happened on Sunday when the World's No. 1 player lost to Ireland's Padraig Harrington on the second hole of a playoff at the Dunlop Phoenix.
Harrington capped a remarkable comeback with a tap-in birdie at the second extra hole to prevent Woods from winning the $1.69 million (euro1.32 million) tournament for the third straight year. It was a tough defeat for Woods, who led by three strokes with just six holes of the final round to play.
"I was struggling all day with my swing," said Woods. "It wasn't just my tee shots, it was everything. I was just trying to hang in there. I gave myself a chance to win and that's a nice positive."
Woods' playoff record is now 14-2 in the official tournaments worldwide, his only other defeat was to Billy Mayfair at the 1998 Nissan Open. Woods also lost a playoff to Nick Price in the 1998 Million Dollar Challenge, an unofficial event in South Africa. But he didn't lose here so much as Harrington won, the Irishman playing the back nine in four under before making birdies at both extra holes at the Phoenix Country Club.
Harrington and Woods both shot 67 to finish at 9-under-par 271, one shot ahead of Japan's Keiichiro Fukabori, whose 30-foot eagle putt at the final hole lipped out, depriving him of a spot in the playoff.
Harrington tried to downplay the significance of beating Woods in a head-to-head confrontation.
"The fact that I've beaten Tiger in a playoff makes me no different a golfer than when I came here this week," said Harrington. "It may change what people think about me, but in my own eyes I'm the same golfer."
Harrington certainly had luck on his side.
With his tee shot at the second extra hole, the par-5 18th, stopping behind a tree, he tried to thread the needle with his second shot, aiming for a gap between the split trunks of the stunted pine. His ball could have gone anywhere, but it continued forward another 130 yards, drawing a perfect lie in a trampled area of rough.
"I definitely got lucky, but sometimes fortune favors the brave," said Harrington, whose third shot, with a gap wedge, stopped within two feet of the pin.
Woods had already hit his third shot to 12 feet. He rarely misses when it really matters, but this time he did as his ball narrowly shaved the pin on the low side allowing Harrington to clean up for a victory that looked most improbable only two hours earlier. Harrington, however, had fancied his chances, even when three shots down.
"Tiger had gone into that 'I'm three ahead, play steady golf' mode. I knew I had an opportunity if I could make some birdies." That's precisely what happened at the par-4 16th, where Woods had a three-putt bogey, missing his second putt from inside four feet moments after Harrington had drained his from 20 feet. "That was a poor putt. I pulled it back a little shut and blocked it," Woods said.
Suddenly it was all square, and that's how it remained at the end of regulation, both players making birdie at the 18th, Harrington from five feet, Woods from three.
The playoff started at the 18th where the two made matching birdies, Harrington curling in a tricky 10-footer that caught the side but fell, before Woods stuffed in a seven-footer. Back they went to the 18th tee, as it turned out for the final time. Woods had to hang around for the victory presentation, and this time he was on the losing end, for only the sixth time in 51 events worldwide where he has led into the final round. "Having him put the jacket on my back was special but I did say to him I'd like him to do it with a different jacket at a different time in the future," Harrington said, with Augusta National on his mind.