SOUTHPORT, England When Padraig Harrington's alarm clock went off at 4:55 a.m. Thursday, the defending British Open champion still had no idea whether his injured wrist would allow him to make it to the first tee at Royal Birkdale, much less make it through the first round.
After enjoying a hearty breakfast of painkillers and anti-inflammatory tablets, the Irishman headed for the range in the pouring rain. He had hit just four warm-up shots when the offending wrist jarred, causing him to wince in pain. There followed another nervous moment when he missed the first fairway and had to scythe through the thick, wet rough to get his ball back in play.
So it was a hugely relieved Harrington who smiled and joked through his post-round press conference after posting a four-over-par 74, despite a disappointing bogey, bogey finish.
"That doesn't look like it has done to much damage," he said. He was talking about his stumbles on the final two holes, but he might just as easily have been talking about his wrist, which led to much speculation that the defending champion might not actually defend. Earlier this week he said he was 50-50 to make it to the first tee. Today he says his odds of finishing the tournament are 90 percent.
"I was nervous in the rough on the first hole and through most of the front nine," he said. "I wasn't releasing the club fully through my right side because of my wrist. But after seven or eight holes I wasn't thinking about it at all."
Last weekend Harrington successfully defended his title at the Irish PGA Championship, which was held in atrocious weather at the European Club near Dublin. He believes that if the conditions remain ugly at Royal Birkdale it could help his chances to defend his Open title, too.
"I wouldn't mind having another round like that," he said. "I think I could do better. But not three rounds like that. It does improve my chances because probably 40 percent of the field aren't prepared for these conditions. The U.S. players and Asians won't be happy if the weather stays like that."
By day's end Harrington announced he was going home to rest and downplayed the seriousness of his injury, saying it was a "distraction."
But he left secure in the knowledge that his 74 served notice to the field: if a man playing on one leg can hobble home with the U.S. Open trophy, then a mere wrist strain won't hamper Harrington's defense of the Claret Jug.