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Wrist injury a concern for defending champion Padraig Harrington

Padraig Harrington, British Open
Paul Thomas/AP
Padraig Harrington won the British Open last year at Carnoustie.

Southport, ENGLAND — Defending British Open champion Padraig Harrington is protecting an injured right wrist, which could force him to withdraw from the championship if it deteriorates during his practice rounds at Royal Birkdale.

He could only manage nine holes on Tuesday but was advised by his physical therapist, Dale Richards, not to hit any balls out of Birkdale's springy rough. Harrington walked the back nine but only hit chips and putts.

"If it was any other week, I would have withdrawn on Sunday night," Harrington said.

Richards added: "He obviously doesn't yet know how the wrist will react when he has to play out of the rough, but the wrist will be strong enough for Padraig to tee it up on Thursday."

He damaged the wrist while hitting an impact bag on Saturday night in his gym at home in Dublin and had not been able to grip a club until he teed off for his first practice round on Tuesday after his press conference.

"I've been having treatment, and I'm strongly hopeful I will be able to play," Harrington said. "The only issue would be if I re-injured it in the rough, and that's what is a little bit scary."

Before Harrington went out on the links to test his game and his wrist, he sounded poetic about ending his year as the British Open champion. As he handed his claret jug back to the R&A, he said, laughing: "Hopefully when I get it back on Sunday night, it'll be in a little tighter box so I can bring it with me everywhere on airplanes." He said "when," not "if."

But the deep-thinking Irishman then got to thinking "what if?" What if Sergio Garcia had made that putt on 18 at Carnoustie? What if his own calamitous hacking along the 72nd hole had meant spending the past 12 months being compared to Jean Van de Velde instead of being a hero? Naturally, Rudyard Kipling's poem "If" sprang to mind.

"I am aware of the twin impostors of success and failure," Harrington said. "There isn't much between winning and losing. Over the years I've done some great things and looked like I lost tournaments. And I've won tournaments where I've struggled home. When you win, you're put up on a pedestal. When you lose, it's easy to be cut down at the knees."

Harrington went on to analyze the weekly challenge on tour, where getting in contention enough times should lead to victories. He should know. In 13 years, he has 21 victories but has finished runner-up 30 times.

"What separates players that win and those that don't, is you've got to put your neck out there," Harrington said. "And if you do, it will get chopped off sometimes. Some players don't like that feeling. I couldn't have been the most enjoyable experience for Sergio last year, but I'm sure he'd be very happy to be in the same situation again this year and have another go at it. That's the difference between being a winner and forever not having a chance."

Harrington warmed up for the defense of his British Open title by doing exactly the same thing that he did before Carnoustie last year — by winning the Irish PGA Championship amid the wind and rain at the European Club south of Dublin. How's that for good karma?

"If I could, I'd wear the same socks as last year, too," he said laughing. "If somebody offered me this week that I would make a good title defense, I wouldn't take it. I'd rather try to win the 2008 Open."

That is, if his wrist holds up.

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