- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 16, 2008

SOUTHPORT, England | First Tiger Woods. Now Padraig Harrington?

The defending British Open champion is plagued by a sore right wrist, which forced him to cut back a practice round Tuesday and raised doubts about whether he will be able to tee it up in the tournament.

Harrington insisted he will be ready Thursday - with one caveat.

“Obviously I have to manage it between now and then,” the Irishman said after scaling back to chipping and putting over the final nine holes of his practice session. “I’ve got to make sure I don’t do anything to it. If I do nothing to it between now and Thursday, I’ll be able to play.”

The Open probably can’t afford to lose another top player. Woods, a three-time British champion and the world’s No. 1 player, is sitting out the rest of the year to recover from knee surgery. Another leading American, Kenny Perry, decided to skip the tournament despite winning three of his last five events on the PGA Tour.

Despite taking a couple of days off, Harrington was clearly not at full strength during his first practice round of the week at Royal Birkdale. He played the front side but made sure to avoid hitting any shots out of the thick rough. At the turn, he was checked by a doctor and decided to just work around the green over the final nine holes.

Asked how his wrist felt, Harrington said, “Fuzzy. Tingly. I was weak in the wrist, and that’s why I didn’t play the back nine.”

He did walk the rest of the way with a group that included Woody Austin, Stephen Ames and Damien McGrane. Harrington merely watched on tee shots and irons from the fairway, then joined in after they got close to the flag. His caddie, Ronan Flood, ditched the bag and tailed along with a half-dozen wedges and a putter draped over his shoulder.

“I don’t want to aggravate it anymore,” Harrington said.

He sprained the wrist Saturday while swinging into an “impact bag,” a sort of punching bag golfers use to strengthen that part of their bodies. He skipped two days of practice and got treatment, then decided to test it out on the course.

While Harrington failed to make it through all 18 holes, he’s not considering the possibility of dropping out.

“Not at the moment, no,” he said. “Unless I injured it again. I can’t see that happening. As long as I avoid doing that, I’ll be OK.”

Even if Harrington does play, he hardly will be in top form. He intends to be back on the course Wednesday but isn’t sure whether he will be able to play more than nine holes, which means he might go into the tournament without getting in a full practice round this week.

No matter what, he won’t be doing any work from the tall grass until it counts. Harrington said the next shot he hits from the rough will be in the tournament because he doesn’t want to put any extra stress on his wrist.

The injury surely will make the job of defending the claret jug a little tougher. But nothing can take away from Harrington’s memorable win a year ago at Carnoustie, where he hit two balls into the Barry Burn on the last hole of regulation but bounced back to beat Sergio Garcia in a four-hole playoff.

Garcia was on the cusp of victory, then watched in agony as a 10-foot par putt at No. 18 slid by edge of the hole. It was all Harrington in the playoff, allowing him to escape any comparisons to Jean Van de Velde, the Frenchman who brazenly gave away the 1999 British Open on the same course with a triple-bogey at the 72nd hole.

Instead, it was Garcia who took all the grief for again failing to capture his first major championship when it was right in his grasp.

“I would be aware myself of the twin impostors of success and failure, how similar they are,” Harrington said. “Over the years, I’ve done some great things and looked like I’ve lost tournaments, and I’ve won tournaments where I struggled home and won it.

“To be very honest, there’s not much difference.”

Harrington turned in the claret jug Tuesday morning after having possession of it for the past year. He hopes to get it back someday, though not in the current packaging provided by the R&A.;

“I did point out that I could do with a smaller box so you could travel with it better on airplanes,” Harrington said at a news conference before he went out on the course. “You can’t take the current one onto a plane; it’s too big. Hopefully when I get back on Sunday night, it’s be in a little tighter box so I can bring it with me everywhere.”

Harrington smiled. He didn’t even mention the ailing wrist during the news conference, revealing it later during a home-country interview with RTE radio.

Instead, he talked about putting last year’s victory out of his head.

“I have to avoid and try to play down being the defending champion,” Harrington said. “It obviously is a distraction for me.”

Turns out that’s not the only one.

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