SOUTHPORT // Only Padraig Harrington could regard a painful wrist injury as a help rather than a hindrance towards making a successful defence at one of the world's most important golf tournament. But that was his view as he held aloft the famous Claret Jug for the second time.
Harrington followed up his gripping play-off victory at Carnoustie a year ago with an emphatic triumph by four shots over the windswept links of Royal Birkdale. "It was a great distraction for me," he said. "The injury pushed everything about coming back to defend the title to one side. It took a lot of pressure off me." Harrington, whose storming finish on Sunday evening swept him clear of the third round leader Greg Norman and the pursuing Ian Poulter, also believed paradoxically that his pre-tournament fitness doubts increased his stamina and strength levels when the serious business began.
"I only played nine holes in practice," he said. "Everybody will tell you this has been physically and mentally the toughest week we could ever have in golf. The fact that I didn't play three practice rounds was a big bonus. I was very fresh going into the weekend, and those last 36 holes were a real battle. "The wrist injury was a saver for me, really." Harrington took more satisfaction from winning his second major than he did when opening his account.
"Last year was a thrilling win," he admitted. "It was exciting and I was on top of the world when I won. I feel more accomplished this year, though. This will give me more confidence for the future." A year ago Harrington had come out of the chasing pack to snatch the title from Sergio Garcia, so he did not have to cope with the pressure until the nerve-racking finale at Carnoustie. Here, however, he was playing in the final pairing for the first time at a major and was delighted with the way he dealt with that situation.
"It's a great experience to come down the 18th on the weekend when the stands are full and they're all cheering, and it's even more special when you know you have won the Open," he said. "I do have a wandering mind at times. I struggle when I get in the lead. That's why I don't watch leaderboards. I never saw a leaderboard until I knew I had won." Harrington, who recalled a feeling of numbness after his moment of glory at Carnoustie, is determined to milk this second big day for all it is worth.
"I'm going to make sure I enjoy the next week," he declared "I've got a wrist injury, so I can't go and practise!" The Dubliner, who will climb to No3 in the world rankings on the strength of this victory and will be a certain starter in Ryder Cup between Europe and the United States, appreciates that the adulation he already enjoys in his homeland will become even greater. Signing autographs has been a chore, albeit an enjoyable one, over the last year and Harrington is wondering whether he will ever be famous enough to scribble a simple "Paddy" to answer his fans' requests in the manner of the master golfer he seeks to emulate who is known around the world as Tiger.
The absence of the world No 1, Tiger Woods, from Birkdale was a dominant topic of conversation throughout the Open week and American visitors kept asking aspiring champions whether there should be an asterisk in the record books alongside the 2008 winner's name to denote that they did not have to tame the Tiger. The manner of Harrington's triumph in conditions that blew away many famous names makes him a worthy dual champion with or without the "Tiger Factor".