Hip hip Harrington

By Brian Keogh

Padraig Harrington did his own version of the Hippy Hippy Shake as he opened with a super 69 in the Irish PGA at The European Club.

Just a week after struggling with a left knee injury at The K Club, the Dubliner popped his right hip out of joint as he bombed a drive down the ninth hole.

But he immediately shot down fears that his dodgy hip makes him doubtful for next week's Open at Carnoustie.

Harrington said: "I am not stressed about it at all. If it was a recurring problem I would be something to worry about.

“There is no concern at all for a week's time. None whatsoever. It is the same as someone getting stiff out of the car or waking up wrong. It is not a problem."

After some athletic stretches on the flat of his back in the middle of the fairway, the world No 10 immediately duffed a five-iron into a bunker to turn in one-over par.

But he roared home in 33 to set the early pace on two-under par before heading off to seek out Dublin-based physio Alan Kelly for a late evening stretching session.

Tied for the early lead with Headfort's Brendan McGovern on two-under par, Harrington said: "My right hip just locked up. It's never happened to me before - well maybe running off a football pitch - but never on the course.

"These things happen to us all. I just couldn't stand on it after my tee shot. When I got over the ball I realised I couldn't actually support my backswing.

"It didn't actually affect my shot at all, I was waiting for it to affect it. While it was troublesome, it didn't actually affect any shots out there. It was just distracting."

Harrington did hip flexor exercises on the fairway to try and relieve a "dead leg" feeling.

He said: " I tried to stretch it out - the way you might see footballers getting loose. It just needs to be batted around a bit. I think they call it dis-traction, when they actually take it out and put it back in.

"I couldn't do it myself. I need somebody else to pull the joint out and put it back in. It is like traction but it is actually distraction.

"On tour I have a muscle test ever morning and get all my muscle groups checked out. Every morning I play a tournament I have my guy there.

"More often than not, especially if I haven't overdone the practice, nothing would show up. This was one of those days where I could have done with a little adjustment.

"It was like I got a dead leg or something like that. The more I walked the better I got."

Harrington insisted that he has recovered from the knee injury that bothered him at The K Club and put his recent physical trouble down to "wear and tear" from years of hitting "too many balls."

As for his opening round, Harrington was delighted to get off to a good start but still unhappy with his concentration levels as he fired five birdies and three bogeys.

He said: "I certainly would have taken a 69 going out. On the front nine we had no wind and on the back we had just a bit of a breeze.

"I played my better golf in the breeze, putted quite nicely and just made a few mental errors. My dropped shots were mental errors.

Harrington birdied the first from four feet but bogeyed the seventh and ninth before hitting form on the back nine.

After a six-iron 15 feet at the 10th, he holed from 18 feet at the 12th and then two putted the 594-yard 13th from 40 feet to get to two-under par.

His concentration problems caught up with him at the 15th, where he drove into a bunker and dropped his third shot of the day.

But he bounced back strongly with an eight-iron to 15 feet at the 17th setting up his fifth birdie of the day.

Harrington added: "I putted well but I lost focus a number of times. It is bringing it home to me that I have got to be more settled over the ball. I bogeyed 15, stood on the tee and it was evident that it was a smooth three-wood because I couldn't reach the trouble.

"But by the time I got to hit it, I hit it hard. That is what I mean by losing focus. I am losing track of what I am trying to do and I have got to get it right this week if it is going to be right next week."

Playing partner David Higgins followed up his Open qualifying heroics with a one-under par 70 as defending champion David Mortimer crashed to a 77.

After playing the course blind, Higgins said: "I hit a few loose shots but a 70 is alright and I am still in there. Probably not knowing the course cost me a couple of shots as well.

"I am not that tired but I could do with a few hours rest. I didn't get to my room until 1.15 pm. The Open? I can't wait. But this is great and I am trying to win it as well. It is great playing with Padraig."

Join leader McGovern was happy just to finish with the same ball after some recent driving problems.

After his 69, the Headfort pro said: "I havent shown any form this year so I am quite happy with what I have done today. Finished with the same ball I started with. My weakness the last couple of years has been my tee shots and they weren't too bad today."