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Padraig Harrington tangled with the rough enough Thursday to feel confident that his injured right wrist would not be a problem. (Photo: Getty Images)

Wrist holds up fine for Harrington in opening-round 74

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Defending Open Champion Padraig Harrington knew his injured right wrist was going to be just fine after he played out of the rough on four of his first five holes during Thursday's opening round at Royal Birkdale.

By Melanie Hauser, Correspondent

SOUTHPORT, England -- He felt a few twinges three or four times on the range Thursday morning, but nothing he couldn't handle.

The worst part, in fact, wasn't the pain. It was the distraction. The worry about whether or not it he could gouge his ball out of a nasty lie in the rough.

Which he promptly did. On four of the first five holes.

Padraig Harrington chuckled. His sprained wrist -- the one he rested most of the early week and the one that had him saying it was 50-50 whether he would even tee off at Royal Birkdale -- held up just fine. As in an opening 74 fine. As in a bogey-bogey close on a miserable morning and a good start at defending his 2007 Open Championship title.

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He was hesitant to work too hard in practice and took it easy this morning on the range. But when it didn't hurt to hit out of the rough on the first hole ...

"... Then I kind of was getting a bit more relaxed with it as it went on," Harrington said. "And as I said, I think after seven or eight holes, I certainly wasn't thinking about it at all.

"I think the tougher weather helped in that sense, that as bad as it was out there, you could only focus on your next shot, getting your grip dry, trying to
... there was a lot of effort put into that out there today, and you can't
... there was very little time to be distracted out there, and that was a good thing for my wrist."

Harrington has been a question mark this week. He hasn't practiced much, walking off the course after just three shots Wednesday. He went to get treatment -- anti-inflammatories -- and set his chances to start at 50-50. And, morning talk shows in Britain checked in every 30 minutes on Harrington's warmup and fitness before his 7:58 a.m. local (2:58 a.m. EDT) start.

And after his opening 74? The odds have definitely improved.

"I've only got three more (rounds) to go," Harrington said, drawing a laugh. "I would think 90 percent. I would even go higher, a 95-percent chance now of completion. I would think it would only be a slim chance that I would now have to do something to
... you know, I suppose you could find
... if I was looking on 17 and I hit it in a heavy lie but the grass was going with it. If you got into some of those lies and the grass was going against you and you really had to dig at it, definitely there's a chance of that happening. But 90 percent I would give myself."

Maybe more. Take away those two closing bogeys and Harrington would have been just one shot off the lead set by playing partner Retief Goosen.

"He played extremely well today, putted very well, great round of golf he shot today," Goosen said.

He steadied his round with a 30-footer on the second hole, then got up and down at the third from 50 yards and birdied the fifth.

"As I said, people always ask, well, how do you deal with playing in tough conditions?" he said. "We just need the odd break to give you a light at the end of the tunnel. If things are going against you on a day like that, you know, you just can't see the answers, you can't see the light at the end of the tunnel, and it just gets tougher and tougher. You need a couple of breaks.

"It's not just as simple as being able to play all the shots in the bag out there. You do need to have the odd thing going in your favor."

One thing that didn't work? Not having played 17 and 18. He said that definitely cost him on the 17th hole.

"I thought the wind was going to be hard off the left, and it played very straight down, and I was trying to hit a hard draw when I didn't need to, and I missed it left in the heavy rough, had to chip out and then missed a five-footer for par," Harrington said.

"And 18, while I knew it was difficult off the left, I hit a reasonable tee shot but found the bunker, and that's a straightforward bogey."

Still, he was only five shots off the early afternoon lead.

And his wrist was fine.

Someone asked if he'd like to play that opening round again. Even if he did say he would have taken 74 before he teed off.

"I think I could do better," he said. "I don't know if I could handle doing it for another three days. I think we'd all be physically and mentally exhausted if we had to
... that round of golf today is like playing two or three rounds of golf. But I definitely wouldn't mind another go at that round.

"If you told me we all have to tee it up again tomorrow in the same conditions, I'd look forward to that test. But maybe not another three of them."

And, no, he wasn't going to head to the range. Injury or no injury. His mother, after all, didn't raise a fool.

"I realize that you ain't going to find anything out there today," Harrington said. "Resting is good for my wrist. And as I said, it's been a tough day mentally on the golf course, so getting your head in the right place, because you've got to expect even if it doesn't rain for the next three days, you've got to expect some wind out there and you've got to be focused."

Not distracted.

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