By Brian Keogh
Hopalong Padraig Harrington has shot down fears that he could miss The Open with a knee injury.
Struggling to make the cut at one stage, the Dubliner limped into the clubhouse at the Smurfit Course yesterday and off for soft-tissue treatment on his left knee with physio Dale Richardson.
But after playing through the pain to card a two-under par 68 and keep his title hopes alive on one-under, he eased worries over his fitness for Carnoustie in two weeks' time.
Harrington said: "I was struggling yesterday. I really didn't think I was going to play but I strapped it up yesterday and the strapping did a lot of good.
"It was fine until my second last hole when I was walking into some soft ground and it twisted and nipped the cartilage again. So no more practice.
"But there is no problem for The Open. This is just a niggling problem I get now and again and I don't see it as being a problem for the future.
"I get it when I'm practising my bunker play because I push out on my left knee and twist on it at the same time.
"Normally it goes away really quickly but in the last four holes of the Pro-Am on Wednesday I couldn't seem to putt properly and I wouldn't have played in that state."
Despite taking anti-inflammatories, the world No 10 was batting to make the cut when he followed a birdie at his opening hole with bogeys at the 12th and 14th.
He then "fatted" his five-iron tee shot in the water at the par-three 17th and looked certain to run up a double bogey and soar to four over par.
But he turned his fortunes around by holing a tricky five-footer in a crosswind to save bogey and rode a wave of confidence to the finish.
He explained: "It looked like I was going four-over par with things not really going my way at that stage and putts not dropping and things.
"It certainly didn't look like there was any way back. But I hit a nice pitch to five feet and holed a tricky putt and that gave me confidence."
Using the low-flighted driver he plans to use at Carnoustie, Harrington had three birdies in the next five holes to completely turn his fortunes around.
Then he round off a brilliant back nine performance by saving an amazing par at the par-five seventh and followed up by rattling home a long putt for a birdie two at the short eighth.
Beaming, he said: "I hit a nice five-iron from 167 yards at the 18th to 12 feet and the putt just snuck in the right edge. They are putts that I have been missing and that one just got into the hole.
"At that stage, all of a sudden I am two over par instead of being four over. I hit my third bad shot of the day with a five-iron on the par-three second but I holed from 12 feet for par and everything was looking up from there on."
The par-five third yielded another birdie with Harrington chipping stone dead from just short of the green.
And he followed that with the shot of the day at the 394-yard fourth - a wedge from 141 yards that danced around the pin and finished just inches away.
He missed a a great chance to get to one under par when he fired a seven-iron to six feet at the fifth and burned the hole with the putt.
He looked in trouble at the par-five seventh when he drove into the quarry on the right.
But after a penalty drop, he knocked a six-iron up the fairway and then saved par from eight feet after a brilliant eight-iron approach,
A long range birdie at the next left him seven shots adrift of clubhouse leader Pelle Edberg.
And while he has not give up hope of an Irish Open - European Open double, he knows that he faces an uphill task.
He said: "We were expecting the weather to be a little bit worse for the afternoon. I'm a little bit disappointed I am at the wrong end of the draw."