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A steady round from Padraig Harrington on Sunday in front of the huge galleries at Birkdale could be enough for a second Claret Jug. (Franklin/Getty Images)

For Harrington, final round will be very different

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Last year, Padraig Harrington felt no stress heading into Sunday at Carnoustie. This time, though, the defending champ knows he's squarely in the last-group spotlight.

By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents

SOUTHPORT, England - In some ways, Padraig Harrington would love to turn the clock back.

He'd like to feel the way he did on Sunday at Carnoustie last year, knowing he was one good round away from a chance to wrap his hands around that beautiful silver Claret Jug. He was the hunter, trailing the hunted, Sergio Garcia, by six shots. One sterling 67 and a playoff later, Harrington had etched his name in history.

This Sunday, though, the thoughtful and talented Irishman finds himself in the final group with the ageless Greg Norman, the man bidding to write a Cinderfella story who Harrington trails by two in an attempt to make a successful title defense.

There is no escaping the spotlight. There is no escaping the pressure that comes with contending this time. In short, there is no comparison between the two.

"Last year I was going into the last round under no particular stress - just go out there and play and anything can happen," Harrington said. "Tomorrow I'd love to have the same attitude, but you know, obviously it's going to be a tighter day. ...

"It's going to be a day that you're watching others, as well. You'll try not to watch them, but you will be watching what's going on around you, whereas last year the only person I was focused on was me because I knew I needed to go forward in order to have a chance of winning.

"Tomorrow you're not sure whether having a great day or a steady day - a steady day could be good enough. That wasn't the case last year. A lot more purpose in the focus last year, as you said, just going forward."

The 36-year-old Dubliner would love to find that zone again at Royal Birkdale on Sunday. More than likely, though, the final round will be a survival test as the pressure mounts and the wind whips off the Irish Sea with the same murderous bent that sent scores soaring on Saturday.

That's why Harrington was so pleased with a round of 72 that left him at 4 over for the tournament, tied with K.J. Choi and two strokes off Norman's lead. At least, he should be when he has time to reflect. Particularly when he was a 50-50 shot to even start his title defense as an ailing right wrist limited his preparation to just nine holes.

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"Obviously I don't know what to think at this stage," Harrington said. "It was one of those days you stayed focused and in the present doing your thing, and I suppose I won't really know what to think too much about it until I sit down and get a rest later on this evening.

"I'm happy with the score. It could have been a little bit better, but tough conditions. I certainly would have taken that going out there. I thought it was probably one of the toughest conditions to putt in I've ever experienced, it really was. ... So that was probably the toughest part of the day.

"I think tee to green it was interesting. You know, the wind was blowing and in some ways it helped you focus and commit to what you were doing. But I found it harder to do on the greens."

Harrington, who needed 32 putts but birdied two of his last four holes on Saturday, knew he wasn't the only one who found life difficult during the third round. He didn't need to look at the leaderboards. He had only to glance at his playing partner, David Duval, who started the round at a more-than-respectable 2 over and proceeded to shoot an 83.

"I knew everybody would find it tough," Harrington said. "I could see that. David played with me and didn't really play too badly, and you could see his score. So you could see that if things got away from you and you didn't get the right breaks, it was going to be a difficult day.

"The key on a bad day is to get the odd break here and there and to stay patient and to wait for those things to happen. If it turns against you, who knows. If that gust downwind on 12 which I knocked it over the green with had happened earlier in the day, who knows, maybe I wouldn't have been as happy going around there today."

While Harrington joked that he had no idea what the forecast for Sunday was "and going by the weather service over here, they don't, either," the Irishman knows to expect - even relish - the wind. And to be wary, at the same time.

"I'd look forward to that challenge," Harrington said. "If it was high winds it would probably give me my best chance of winning, yes. Saying that, high winds, it can mean ... a guy can go from leading or close to leading right out of a tournament."

That's why, unlike at Carnoustie, Harrington must look past himself.

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