November 17, 2008

Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for Sportsman of the Year on Dec. 2. Here's one of the nominations for that honor by an SI writer. For more essays, click here.

Some of the best athletes have had some of the best stares. Mark Messier. Mike Tyson. Tiger Woods. Padraig Harrington.

Padraig Harrington? That's right, Paddy Harrington. Have you seen him? When Paddy is closing in on a major championship, his eyes grow as dark as charcoal. He makes a swing, locks onto the flight of the ball and refuses to release the gaze until the ball is nestled on the green. It's as if Paddy forgets how to blink sometimes. Ask Sergio Garcia. He'll tell you about that look.

Late in 2008, while Tiger was convalescing, Paddy swept the year's final two majors, the British Open at Royal Birkdale and the PGA Championship at Oakland Hills, the kind of take that makes him an easy choice for Sportsman of the Year.

Surely, the golf world had made alternative plans when Tiger missed the second half of the season with a knee injury. A fourth major for Phil Mickelson, perhaps, or a first one for Adam Scott. Instead it was Paddy, the son of a Dublin cop, taking his second and third major titles with a firm back and a cold glare.

At Birkdale, playing alongside the sentimental favorite, Greg Norman, on Sunday, Paddy shot 69 in a gale, including a 32 on the back nine that showed no mercy. The claret jug belongs to me, his eyes seemed to say, and it did.

Winning back-to-back British Open titles -- he knocked out Garcia at Carnoustie in 2007 -- was remarkable in its own right. Paddy could have coasted at Oakland Hills, and no one would have noticed. But Paddy didn't coast. Paddy made putts.

He rolled them in from everywhere on the course that Ben Hogan dubbed "the Monster." Some said he putted like Tiger, others invoked Ben Crenshaw. Almost every putt was the same. Perfect speed, center of the cup. Paddy was all business.

On the final day he was paired with Garcia once again. Without laying a finger on him, Paddy leaned on him all afternoon, with that swing, with that putting stroke and with that stare. Sergio buckled, finding water on 16. Paddy closed par, birdie, par. The final stroke was masterful, a 15-footer that caused Paddy's fists to shake and his legs to twitch and his eyes, calm all afternoon, to spring to life.

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