Has Padraig Harrington’s knee injury given him the perfect green-reading posture?
Judging by the serious footage of putts he holed in opening with a bogey free, five under par 65 in the St Jude Classic at TPC Southwind, you’d be tempted to say yes.
Forced to lunge with his left leg and protect his injured right knee by keeping his trailing leg straight behind him, the Dubliner’s modified version of Camilo Villegas’ spider didn’t appear to put him off in the least.
Wayward off the tee early in his round, he hit 12 greens and needed a mere 25 putts to secure the early clubhouse lead before Lee Westwood came in with a seven under 63.
World No 3 Westwood beat the course record to lead by a stroke from Casey Wittenberg and by two from Harrington, who started on the back nine at 7.38am local time.
Ireland’s triple major champion drained birdies from 21’8” and 27’3” at the 15th and 18th and then followed birdies at the par five third and par four sixth by sinking a seven-yarder from off the green at the seventh.
Advised to skip the pro-am so as not to overstress his knee with unnecessary walking, Harrington insisted that his knee is getting better all the time following keyhole surgery to remove some floating cartilage on May 25.
Asked if it would hold up for next week’s US Open, he said: “Yeah. It’s only getting better.”
While Rory McIlroy found the afternoon conditions a struggle on the greens as he carded 17 pars and a solitary birdie on the par five 16th, Harrington got the best of the conditions.
Pleased to take advantage of his draw, he said: “i’m happy, yes. I suppose it’s always the case of beware of the injured golfer. Expectations aren’t quite as bold when you’re out there. I thought it was nice to play well and did the right things at the right time.
“Conditions are as good as they can be. It is a tough course. If you’re going to score the morning time, there’s a bit difference of moisture in the rough. You’re not getting the same flyers as you would in the afternoon and it dries out. So you got to get the score in the morning, and I’m not expecting it to be as easy for the rest of the week.”
As for his version of the spider, he grinned: “I wasn’t even close to a spider. I was trying to figure out how many times I was going to end up lunging on my left leg during the day. Would it make it to a hundred times.
“My muscles in my left leg are going to be tired the next stretch. I’m probably going to have a few pains tonight. That knee surgery two weeks ago, it gave me a bit of pain through 9 holes and stiffened up on the back-9.”
Writing on his blog before his round, Harrington explained: “On Monday I had a company day in New York, which was the first time that hit full shots. I was a little apprehensive about it but it went fine and the hardest thing on the knee was the walking. Walking on it caused it to swell up a little whereas hitting shots didn’t affect it at all. I was playing but was still a little worried about how it would feel on Tuesday morning but again it was fine.
“On Tuesday morning I saw Dale (Richardson), my physio, and got some treatment on my knee; he was very happy with how it was. All he said was to take it as easy as possible and try not to put to much stress on it. I played nine holes, which was fine; I iced it after three holes and then when I finished.
“It swelled up a bit after the walking again but nothing too bad. However, as a precaution, I pulled out of the pro-am so as to give myself another day from walking on it. Dale and another friend of mine who is a knee specialist, Mike Voight, both recommended not walking on until I had to on Thursday.
“I would have liked to play as I needed to get some rounds under my belt but I didn’t want to risk making it worse and affecting this week’s tournament or the US Open. On Wednesday I played a few holes on another course but in a cart and again making sure to ice my knee every few holes.
“I am going into this week unsure as to what to expect as I haven’t played or done much practice in the last couple of weeks. The main reason that I am here is to ensure that I get some golf in before next week. It is a big help that I have played here many times, I know the course and am comfortable on it.
“I would like to have played the pro-am so as to get a bitter feel for how the course is playing this year but resting my knee was definitely the best option. I haven’t had any ill effects from hitting shots but I know that tournament rounds will really tell me how it is. As far as this week goes I have very few expectations; sometimes that can be a good thing, you just never know.”