SOUTHPORT, England (AP) - Padraig Harrington closed in on his second straight British Open championship Sunday. Not bad for a guy who wasn't sure he'd be able to play. Greg Norman's hopes of becoming golf's oldest major champion were fading, done in by a rash of bogeys that broke out right at the start. The 53-year-old Aussie bogeyed the first three holes to quickly surrender the two-shot lead he had going to the final round. English favorite Ian Poulter, nattily dressed as always in peach-colored pants, was the leader in the clubhouse after shooting a 1-under 69. A roar went up across Royal Birkdale when he sank a 15-footer for birdie at the 16th, pulling into a tie for the lead with Harrington. But Poulter's hopes took a blow when he three-putted for par at the par-5 17th, though he did give himself hope with a gutty par putt at the last hole for a 7-over 287.
Harrington, who only got in nine holes of practice this week because of a sore wrist, overcame a stretch of three straight bogeys just before the turn on another blustery day at Royal Birkdale and was 5 under with three holes to play. Norman actually had the lead going to the back side, despite his erratic play, but Harrington quickly reclaimed it when the Shark bogeyed the 10th and 12th holes. With Norman fading, Harrington made his first birdie of the day, rolling in a 12-foot putt at No. 13. He added a two-putt birdie at the par-5 15th, giving him a two-shot lead on Poulter and three on Norman, who picked up his first birdie of the round at the same hole with a dazzling up-and-down from the pot bunker, the sand blowing in his face.
This year he wasn't sure he could play after injuring his right wrist last weekend swinging into an "impact bag," sort of a punching bag for golfers. He had to cut short a practice round Tuesday and gave up after just three swings on Wednesday. That day, he put his chances of teeing off at 75 percent and his hopes of finishing at 50 percent. Nobody even asked him for his odds of winning.
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