Harrington shines as Tiger rests for most of the season

Hamburg  - Although Tiger Woods took yet another step towards immortality by winning his 14th major, it was Irishman Pedraig Harrington who grabbed the headlines when he became the first European to win the PGA Championship in 78 years.

Harrington added the Open to take two of the four majors on offer in 2008, but could do little to prevent Europe from relinquishing their hold on the Ryder Cup with a 16.5 to
11.5 defeat against the US at the Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky.

Trevor Immelman managed to beat Tiger Woods by three shots in The Masters played at Augusta in April to win the first major on offer for the year.

The South African, who played consistent golf throughout his four rounds became the first winner since Raymond Floyd in 1976 to end each of the four days at the top of the leader board.

The 28-year-old, who became only the second South African to win The Masters after Gary Player, achieved his success just four months after having a benign tumor removed from his diaphragm.

"It's just a dream come true," he said.

Immelman was playing such steady golf that even when his tee shot dropped into the water at number 16 in the last round, saddling him with a double bogey, it proved to be little more than an annoyance.

"I kind of felt like I was doing OK," he said with a laugh. "Because even when I made a double-bogey there, people were clapping for me."

Woods moved to within four majors of Jack Nicklaus' career total of 18 and also emulated the Golden Bear's feat of winning all four majors at least three times each by beating Rocco Mediate on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff after an 18-hole playoff failed to separate the two at the US Open at Torrey Pines.

What made Woods' comeback victory even more remarkable was that it was achieved with an injury to his left knee that had earlier required surgery and forced him to miss the remainder of the season after further surgery.

On the fourth day of play Woods needed a birdie at the last hole to force a playoff and again found himself one shot down, playing the same hole on Monday.

But his powers of recovery again came to the fore as he birdied the last to Mediate's par, and then parred the first play-off hole to win the competition for the third time.

"It was unbelievable. It just kept ebbing and flowing, back and forth, back and forth. It was a great battle all day. It was just unreal," Woods said. "Rocco looked like he was in control, then I was in control."

Harrington then made the most of Woods' absence to take both remaining majors.

The 36-year-old shot a final round one under par 69 to secure a total of 283 and a four shot victory over England's Ian Poulter to successfully defended his British Open title at Royal Birkdale in July.

"I had a great year as the Open champion and I don't know how long I can keep doing it," said Harrington. "Back-to-back, I'm thrilled I've done it."

Veteran Greg Norman, who won the Open in 1986 and 1993, went into the final round with a two shot lead, but fell behind when he bogeyed the opening three holes.

The 53-year-old ended the day with eight bogeys to tie for third behind Harrington and Ian Poulter.

A few weeks later Harrington added the 2008 PGA Championship with a three under 277 at the at the South Course of Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, beating Ben Curtis and Sergio Garcia, to become the first European since Tommy Armour in 1930 to win the tournament.

Harrington, though, could do nothing as Europe were beaten for the first time since 1999 in the Ryder Cup, with Jim Furyk beating Miguel Angel Jiminez 2 and 1 to move the United States onto the unassailable 14.5 points it needed to win the trophy.

"It feels great to score the points that won the Ryder Cup," said Furyk. "I have been on the other side. I am just so happy for all my teammates. There could have been anyone in that spot."

US captain Paul Azinger said that his team had played superbly.

"We just had a plan, and we stuck to it. Golf was spectacular on both sides, and our guys just came out on top. I could not be happier. They really grinded it out."

Harrington also just failed to win the European Order of Merit, as Robert Karlsson pipped him by taking his earning to 2,732,748 euros (3,466,348 dollars) over the 2008 season.

The Swede became the last winner of the Harry Vardon trophy as the Order of Merit will be replaced from next year by the Race to Dubai.

Despite missing half the season Woods came close to topping the PGA money list, finishing just behind Fiji's Vijay Singh, who pocketed more than six million dollars for the season. (dpa)