From Brian Keogh at Royal Birkdale
Padraig Harrington survived a battle of the fittest at storm-lashed Royal Birkdale and roared: I hope it blows again.
The defending champion dug deep to card a four-over par 74 in the worst of the weather and believes another day of wind and rain can only boost his chances of retaining the old Claret Jug.
Despite some early “twinges”, his injured wrist held up well for a five and half hour round played in a vicious west wind and driving rain
And while he was disappointed to bogey the 17th and 18th, he knows he has not played himself out of the running for a second Major title and reckons another few days of tough conditions will play into his hands.
Relieved to get through the first day and confident he will finish, Harrington said: “I’m happy to have played. I battled well through the first 16 holes and thought the hard work was done.
“With the last two holes being downwind it was a poor finish to end with two bogeys. But I would have taken my score on the first tee, especially after starting off with a few bogeys.
“I didn’t have any problems with the wrist on the course but felt a few twinges of pain warming up. But I’ve got another day to rest and I’m quite happy. I’ve not played myself out of the tournament.
“If you told me we all have to tee it up tomorrow in the same conditions, I’d look forward to that test. But I don’t know if I could handle it for another three days.
“I think we’d all be physically and mentally exhausted - that round today was like playing two or three rounds of golf. But I definitely wouldn’t mind another go.”
Out of bed a 4:55 am, Harrington teed off just before 8 o’clock in horrid conditions wondering how his wrist would stand up to the punishment.
But he walked away boasting that he “enjoyed the battle” and after getting in four days of links practice in tough weather conditions in the Irish PGA at the European Club last week, he reckons he has an advantage over the field.
He said: “I enjoyed the battle today. And it really was a battle. You are looking at close to 40 percent of the field that really aren’t prepared to play in weather like that.
“It gives a big advantage to anyone who was brought up in those conditions in Britain and Ireland and anybody who’s used to links golf.”
Harrington confessed that the low point of his week came on the 10th hole on Wednesday, when his wrist gave way for the first time.
He still hadn’t tested it in the rough but he soon forgot all about it after he carved his first four tee shots into the rough and survived to tell the tale.
He said: “I had about three or four shots on the range where (the wrist) twinged. I had taken some anti-inflammatories and painkillers and I expected to have more twinges on the golf course.
“I was apprehensive about hitting it out of the rough but that’s what I managed to do on the first four or five holes.
“When it didn’t hurt on the first hole, I got more relaxed as the round went out and after seven or eight holes I wasn’t thinking about it at all. The tough weather helped because you could only focus on your next shot.”
After starting with a bogey five, he sliced into rough at the second but saved par from 30 feet and then got up and down from 50 yards for another par at the third.
Another bogey the par-three fourth put him two-over par but vital birdie at the short par-four fifth, where he hit a six-iron to five feet and holed the putt changed his day and he never looked back.
Explaining the importance of momentum, Harrington said: “You need the odd break to give you light at the end of the tunnel. The birdie on the fifth was very important at that stage of my round. I’m two over par and facing a difficult sixth hole.
“You feel like you have something to play with if you are making the odd birdie out there. If you are always slipping backwards with bogeys, it feels endless out there. So it was a very important time to make a birdie.”
The 499-yard sixth was playing into the teeth of gale and Harrington did well to limit the damage to a bogey five before hitting the birdie trail again.
At the eighth he hit a sand wedge to eight feet to set up another birdie and then got up and down from 50 yards at the ninth to turn in one over par 35.
A bogey at the tough 11th did him little damage and after making pars at the next six holes he was annoyed to miss fairways at the 17th and 18th for a pair of closing bogeys.
He was still happy that his wrist stood up to the test and grateful that his tangles with the wet rough were not as challenging as he feared they could have been.
Calculating his chances of finishing the tournament at 95 percent, he believes he is over the worst now explaining: “I was getting up this morning not knowing what swinging a club would be like.
“If there was only a reasonable amount of pain, I knew that I couldn’t do any more damage. I was convinced I was going to give it a go anyway.
“The worst point was on the 10th fairway yesterday when I just started my practice round and my wrist jarred on my second shot. That was the low point of the week.
“When I came back out and made another swing on the 10th and that hurt as well, that was the second lowest point and I was really concerned at that stage.”
In the end he survived the toughest of links tests in the worst of the early conditions thanks to his brilliant short game.
Despite hitting just a six of 18 greens in regulation, he single-putted nine times and kept his title dream alive for 24 hours at least.