By Marla Ridenour
Beacon Journal sports columnist
Chances are Padraig Harrington's connotations of the word snowman have nothing to do with the popular childhood pastime.
On back-to-back Sundays last year, the amiable Irishman carded a dreaded eight — known to even casual golfers as a snowman. Those gaffes in the final round cost him chances to win two of the game's biggest titles: the $8.5 million World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational and the $7.5 million PGA Championship. A triumph in the latter would have given him four victories in a span of 10 majors.
In the Bridgestone, Harrington arrived at Firestone Country Club's par-5 No. 16 with a 1-shot lead over Tiger Woods and left with a 3-stroke deficit.
Rattled after being put on the clock for slow play, Harrington faced a tough flop shot for his fourth and found the water. He took a triple bogey and Woods birdied and hung on for his seventh victory in Akron. Harrington tied for second.
Seven days later, Harrington became the one with the snowman again. Trailing Woods by 1 shot at the par-3 eighth at Hazeltine Golf Club, Harrington hit two balls in the water. Y.E. Yang went on to capture the title by 3 strokes over Woods. Harrington tied for 10th, 8 shots behind.
Harrington learned why Arnold Palmer dubbed Firestone South's 16th hole ''the Monster'' after making an 8 there in the 1960 PGA Championship. It would be no surprise to Harrington to learn that Palmer finished tied for seventh in that event.
Since 1983, only three players who have carded an eight in the final round of a PGA Tour tournament have gone on to win, according to statistics compiled by the tour. The last was David Toms in the 2003 Wachovia Championship, his coming on the par-4 18th at Quail Hollow Golf Club.
Toms joined Woods, who carded a snowman at the par-5 17th at Valderrama Golf Club in Spain in the 1999 WGC-American Express Championship, and Phil Mickelson, who made an 8 at the par-5 14th at TPC Star Pass in the 1991 Northern Telecom Open.
According to tour research, 16 players in that same span have walked away from Firestone with a crazy eight in the final round. Eleven took their snowman at the Monster.
After Harrington, the closest any came to winning was Nick Faldo, who shot an 8 at the par-4 fourth in the 1996 NEC World Series of Golf and tied for 10th. Justin Leonard carded a snowman at the Monster and tied for 14th in 1996.
Although statistics on crazy eights in rounds 1-3 were not available, one of the most memorable came in the second round of this year's U.S. Open. At No. 14 at Pebble Beach, Paul Casey nearly took a 9, escaping a penalty stroke for slamming his club when his ball continued to roll back to his feet.
At the 2009 Tour Championship, Mickelson joined the snowman club at the par-4 14th hole in the first round at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta. Mickelson went on to win, and his opening-round 3-over 73 became the highest start for an eventual champion in the event's history.
John Daly was not as fortunate in the 2004 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. He cost himself a chance of playing on the U.S. Ryder Cup team in the first round with a 9-over 81, which included an 8 at the par-4 18th. His snowman included a shot into a hazard and a three-putt finish. Ryder Cup captain Hal Sutton selected Jay Haas and Stewart Cink as his final picks as Daly missed the Americans' record drubbing at the hands of the Europeans.
Zach Johnson felt Harrington's pain in the third round of the 2007 Bridgestone Invitational. He was tied for the lead with Rory Sabbatini when he came to the par-4 ninth. Johnson's snowman became half of his 8-stroke deficit as he tied for 11th.
One of the tour's best interviews, Harrington handled his back-to-back disasters in 2009 with class. Last September at the Deutsche Bank Championship, Harrington was philosophical.
''It's never nice when you mess up and you have a potential chance of winning,'' he said on Sept. 2. ''But I totally understand that these things happen in the game. Some days you'll get the breaks and some days you won't get the breaks. Some days you'll look like a fool out there, and some days you'll look like a hero. You've got to accept that over the course of time, it evens out.''
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.