Harrington battles knee, Tiger withdraws and McDowell regains form at Sawgrass

Padraig Harrington hits his tee shot on the 17th at Sawgrass.Padraig Harrington battled through the pain barrier after an injury to his dodgy right knee threatened to derail his challenge for The Players at Sawgrass.

The 39-year old Dubliner, who went under the knife to remove damaged cartilage in his right knee almost 12 months ago, complained in practice of a “stabbing pain” during his takeaway and will have treatment before his second round today.

Harrington hit just four fairways and was forced to rely on his putting as he opened with a one over par 73 to trail leader Nick Watney by nine shots as Graeme McDowell regained some form with an encouraging 67.

“I have taken it easy this week during the practice days as I hurt my knee last week and it is still quite sore,” Harrington before the start.

A limping Tiger Woods withdrew after playing nine holes in a nightmare, six over 42 as he complained of a recurrence of his left knee and Achilles problems.

But while Harrington will soldier on, he was still concerned about doing himself more damage after hurting his already suspect knee during last week’s Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow.

Harrington explained: “I twisted it walking on a slope and it hasn’t recovered. I thought it was something that would just disappear after a day or two but it has been quite sore since.

“If it wasn’t such a big event, I would probably withdraw. I have kept my preparation to a minimum so as not to put any undue pressure on my knee, so hopefully this will help me get through the week.”

The world No 41 was near the top of the leaderboard on three under par with eight holes to play as putted brilliantly for birdies at first, fourth, seventh and 10th.

A bad tee shot cost him a bogey six at the second and he continued to miss fairways for the rest of the round before even his putting let him down.

In the end, he played his last eight holes is four over, bogeying the 11th before three putting twice - for a double bogey six at the 12th and again for a closing bogey from over 50 feet at the 18th.

Late starter Graeme McDowell emerged from his mini slump in impressive fashion when he opened with a five under par 67 that could have been several shots better.

The 31-year old US Open champion, who has missed three of his last four cuts, finished the day three shots behind pacesetter Nick Watney is a share of fifth place after an eagle, four birdies and just one bogey.

Starting on the back nine, McDowell followed birdies at the 10th and 12th with an eagle three from just five and a half feet at the 16th.

He birdied the par-five second and then recovered from a bogey at the short third by holing an overhit greenside bunker shot for an outrageous birdie at the sixth after driving into the trees off the tee.

He had another birdie chance the eighth and then pitch over the back of the par-five ninth from just short of the green and had to scramble for his par five.

McDowell credited coach Pete Cowen with his return to form following an intensive practice session at Lake Nona last week.

He said: “”I’ve been playing some pretty dismal golf the last three or four weeks. New Orleans especially was awful. New Orleans was the straw that broke the camel’s back, really. I knew I couldn’t continue swinging it the way I was swinging it and I had to do something about it.

“So Pete and I got together last Saturday. Went back to basics and tried to build the swing back up from scratch. I found a couple little feelings that were different, and off we go again.

‘ve been beating myself up a little bit. You know, it’s frustrating because we put pressure on ourselves. We want to play well every week that you can play well. But I expect to play better than I have been playing, that’s for sure.

“There have been some frustration levels in there. I’ve been beating myself up, and probably been tough to live with for the people around me as well, caddie’s and agents, et cetera, et cetera. The mind feels a lot more clear the last couple of weeks.

“I’m looking forward to it. It’s a busy summer, so that’s about the right time to start getting the head screwed back on again. The last six weeks has been tough, but it’s been a little bit of a wake-up call as well.”

McDowell added: “I’ve been working hard the last three or four weeks and not getting anything out of my golf swing.  I felt like the light switch came on a little bit over the weekend.

“I found a couple things that just hadn’t been making any sense to me. I started seeing the golf ball behaving again.

“So I’m not trying to say I was expecting to do great things this weekend. I felt like I was on the beginning of — I felt like I was back on the right path again, and I was just coming here this week to try to really start things off, start the summer going, start off on the right foot and get a clear mind and get patient again.

“Just that’s a great way to start the week. I hit some good shots today and made some good swings. Like I say, I haven’t really been seeing that lately so it’s good to see.”