With wrist throbbing, defending champ again cuts practice round short

SOUTHPORT, England -- If this was nearly any other week, Padraig Harrington would already be home.

Instead, he was strolling around blustery Royal Birkdale, still trying to cope with the pain in his right wrist, still trying to work out how he can possibly defend his British Open championship.

Harrington cut short another practice round Wednesday on the eve of the tournament, managing only three full swings before his wrist started throbbing again. He walked the rest of the course, limiting himself to chipping and putting, the only things he felt comfortable enough to risk.

So, will he play?

"I can't say honestly at this moment," Harrington said as he strolled down the middle of the 18th fairway, midway through a practice round that was little more than a pleasant walk.

Later, after coming off the ninth green, he was a bit more specific about his prospects. Harrington said it was 75 percent likely he would at least tee off, but put his chances of making it through the first round at only 50 percent.

The Irishman sprained his wrist last weekend while hitting into an impact bag, golf's version of the punching bag. He took a couple of days off, then hit the course Tuesday. He managed to get in nine holes before his wrist started feeling "tingly," forcing him to cut out any full swings on the back side.

Harrington returned early Wednesday, headed to the practice range and didn't have any problems.

"I thought it was fine," he said. "I was hitting all sorts of shots and felt quite confident. I was hitting drivers with no problem. I was hitting divots with no problem."

Then he headed to the course. Three swings later, he was done.

Harrington teed off at No. 10 and didn't like the way his wrist felt. He tried another swing from the fairway. More pain. He gave it one more shot at the 11th tee before pulling the plug. For the second day in a row, caddie Ronan Flood ditched the bag and simply walked with his boss carrying a few wedges and a putter.

"When I hit that first 6-iron off the fairway, it hurt," Harrington said. "When I went back and hit the driver again, that hurt."

The doctors have assured Harrington that nothing is broken or torn, so there appears little chance he could make things worse by playing -- and potentially knock himself out of future events such as the PGA Championship or, even more important, the Ryder Cup.

Harrington was being treated with laser light therapy, ice and anti-inflammatory medication. Even if he plays, he knows he won't be 100 percent.

"I'll be apprehensive hitting any shot," he said. "I'll certainly be apprehensive hitting it in the rough. It might be a situation now of trying to manage the pain. If the stability in the wrist is strong, it's really dealing with the pain. The pain itself is not a problem, but the anticipation of flinching for the pain, that could be a problem. I've got to somehow manage that."

Harrington had a small wrap on his wrist, though few fans saw it because he was wearing a wind jacket on a cool, windy day along the Irish Sea. Still, most spectators were aware of the defending champion's predicament and showed their concern.

"How's the wrist, Padraig?" one man asked when Harrington lingered to sign autographs.

"It's OK," he replied, without much conviction.

Harrington walked the course with Woody Austin, watching the American hit drivers and irons, then chatting with him between shots.

"It's been a nice relaxing day for me," Harrington quipped. "I should be checking out the course, but I find myself just telling stories with Woody."

Harrington won his first major championship a year ago at Carnoustie, where he memorably hit two balls into the Barry Burn on the 72nd hole but still managed to beat Sergio Garcia in a playoff.

He was looking forward to making another run at the claret jug -- even suggesting jokingly that the R&A come up with a smaller box to store it in, so the champion could carry it on to a plane. But the ailing wrist has made it highly unlikely he'll be able to contend at Royal Birkdale.

Then again, Tiger Woods did manage to win the U.S. Open on a bum knee. The world's best player underwent surgery shortly after his playoff victory over Rocco Mediate, forcing him to sit out the rest of the year.

The British Open faces the prospect of being without two of its biggest names. And rest assured, Harrington wouldn't be going through so much trouble for just any tournament.

If this wasn't the British Open?

"I," Harrington said without hesitation, "would be at home right now."