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Padraig Harrington refuses to get caught up in major expectations. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Padraig Harrington refuses to get caught up in major expectations. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Feeling no pressure, Harrington plays like a champion

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Fresh off his victory at Carnoustie last month, Padraig Harrington teed off Thursday with less to prove than perhaps anyone in the Southern Hills field. With a big grin on his face, Harrington fired a silky 69 that leaves him very much in the chase. 

By Melanie Hauser, Contributor

TULSA, Okla. -- He's in a comfort zone.

Nothing to prove. No added pressure.

Just another major to play. And, perhaps, to win.

Padraig Harrington didn't force anything Thursday afternoon at the 89th PGA Championship. He merely played his game. He played like the Open champion; the champion golfer of the year.

"I just went out and felt like I was playing a major," Harrington said. "It wasn't like I was out there trying to prove anything. I didn't think ahead. I didn't think back."

The result? A tidy opening 69 at Southern Hills. Enough to keep him on the first page of the leaderboard -- four shots behind leader Graeme Storm. And more than enough to put him in the mix for a second consecutive major.

"I'm the only one who can do that this week," he said with a grin.

That grin, we might add, has barely left Harrington's face since he became the first European in eight years to win the Open Championship. Nothing much is getting the best of him. Not the heat. Not the spiked-up afternoon greens.

Not even a reporter who kept throwing stats at him after his round. Which may not seem like much until you understand that Harrington -- right now at least -- doesn't do stats.

The reporter pressed on.

"You are the stat man," Harrington said. "I have no interest in stats. I don't look at stats and I don't have any idea. The only stat I care about is I shot 69."

The reporter tossed out another stat.

"I have to explain to you I don't want to know my stats," he said making everyone chuckle.

Can you just ...
the reporter said.

Harrington shook his head, grinned and drew yet another laugh. "Can I make it any clearer?"

No, he didn't want to hear about how many times he missed a fairway and hit a green. Or anything about what happened on the greens. But he took it in stride. And with that grin.

The key, he said was his mental approach.

"My head, thinking, worked my way around the golf course," he said. "My misses were in good spots and did a good job getting the ball around."

The 35-year-old Irishman held the round -- played in brutally hot afternoon sun -- together with a birdie at the ninth that took away the sting of his bogey 6 at the fifth hole. "I was trying to make par there and made a birdie," he said. "That got me back to even par."

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He followed a bogey at the 12th with a string of three birdies at 13, 14 and 15 to get to 2 under. The bogey at 17?

"It was a simple bogey I made in the end," he said. "Plenty of guys made simple bogeys out there today. I wish I didn't do it. I didn't play a good chip from the back of the green. But I'm not going to get hung up on it."

A 72 or 73 would have been fine, he said. Anyone hanging right around there is definitely in this championship. It all depends on what happens the next three rounds.

And Harrington? He's not about to get caught up in major expectations. Or major stats like the recent one where Phil Mickelson went 0-for-46 (0-for-42 as a pro) in majors before winning the 2004 Masters. Counting that first one, he won three of the next nine, including the 2005 PGA and 2006 Masters back-to-back.

Harrington has a tendency to win in bunches. Ten of his 14 wins internationally have come in multiple-win years. If he can add another win this year ? well, that stat he might like to talk about.

"Certainly in the past in my career when things, good things happen to me, I tend to keep my head down, put the blinkers on and keep going forward, certainly for a period of time," he said. "That would have been the case when I came out to the TOUR and won.

"Certain element, to me, when you do win, you kind of ? you know, I don't want to ever get to the stage of trying to prove anything after winning a major championship, but there is a certain element in the next number of tournaments where you're very conscious to give it 100 percent to get the most out of it; that you want to try and play like the Open champion."

Yes, he's on cruise control right now.

"I also feel there's a certain level of adrenaline coming on from having won in a certain level and a certain high from it," he said. "I haven't hit a wall as of yet. That may happen in time, but at the moment I'm knocking it down well and I'm working hard, I'm through it."

A few minutes later, he was talking about hitting a lot of fairways and greens.

A voice piped up: How many did you hit? Yes, the reporter was kidding.

But it drew a laugh from the reporters. And another grin from the champion golfer of the year.

"A lot," he said, shaking his head.

And more than enough to keep that dream of a second consecutive major alive.

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