More mental than physical for Padraig

Brian Keogh at the European Club

Combine some physical gymnastics with the mental heebie-jeebies and you start to get the picture of Padraig Harrington's opening round in the Irish Professional Championship at The European Club.

The world number 10 opened with a two-under par 69 that was good enough for a share of the first round lead with Ulsterman Michael Hoey and Headfort's Brendan McGovern.

But the Dubliner caused panic in the streets at the ninth hole where he popped his hip out of joint and then stretched out in the middle of the fairway and put himself through a series of hip flexor exercises.

Just a week after struggling with a left knee injury at The K Club, Harrington's participation in next week's Open at Carnoustie looked in doubt as he clearly suffered serious discomfort.

But after walking off the injury, he confessed afterwards that there is nothing to worry about and professed that he is far more concerned about his mental demons than any physical frailties ahead of next week's major test.

"My right hip just locked up," Harrington said. "It's never happened to me before - well maybe running off a football pitch - but never on the course.

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

Harrington's regular physiotherapist Dale Richardson is at the Scottish Open but the Dubliner sought out Tallaght-based Alan Kelly for treatment last night and insisted that it will not be a factor at Carnoustie.

He added: "There is no concern on my hip. None at all for a week's time. None whatsoever. It is the same as someone feeling stiff after getting out of the car or waking up wrong. It is not a problem."

One a day when just seven player broke par and troubled by nothing more than his hip and a zephyr breeze, Harrington carded five birdies and three bogeys to finish at the top of the leaderboard.

He went to the turn in one-over par, erasing a facile birdie at the first with bogeys at the seventh and the ninth, where he "fatted" his five-iron approach into a bunker just moments after his hip scare.

It hardly seemed to bother him much after that as he birdied three of the next four holes, holing putts of 15 and 18 feet at the 10th and 12th before two-putting the par-five 13th to move to two-under par.

Lack of focus is something that has bothered Harrington since his Irish Open success and he was annoyed to put his three-wood tee shot in a fairway trap at the 15th for his final bogey.

An eight-iron to 15 feet at the 17th eased the pain of that error and the Dubliner hopes to improve his concentration between now and next Thursday if he is to have any chance of winning the Open.

"I putted well but I lost focus a number of times," Harrington said. "My focus is bad and I am getting distracted by all sorts of things in my head. Whether I am lined up properly, whether I am going to fade it too much whether the wind, whether I am going to hit it too easy, too hard... I could keep naming things.”

Open qualifier David Higgins fired a fine one-under par 70, despite arriving at his hotel room in Arklow at 1.15 am, that left him just one off the pace alongside Ryder Cup hero Philip Walton, Mallow based Michael Collins and Portmarnock’s Noel Fox.