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Thrills beat the spills on Harrington's rollercoaster

With an eagle on the meddlesome 17th last night, Padraig Harrington, down among the dead men or so it seemed just a few short days ago, soared back into contention in this Open that had seemed so closed to him because of damage to his wrist. That took him to three over – and just three shots off the pace – but he was not done there. He then birdied the last to set the tournament alight.

"I finished bogey-bogey on my first round, which was a bit disappointing, but I've got those shots back today," he said. "An eagle was a bonus, but after that you're not going to do anything other than birdie the last, are you?"

If last year's event was a rollercoaster for the 36-year-old Dubliner, who came from six shots behind Sergio Garcia to reel in the Spaniard on the final day's play, then Birkdale '08 is a ride with knobs on.

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The numbers for his last four holes last night, read quite astonishingly, birdie, par, eagle, birdie. Any such notion that he is a write-off just because he could not push a tee into the ground without searing pain on Monday, has by been revealed, comprehensively, as so much baloney.

He began yesterday four shots over par and five off the lead but then carded a 68 to move to two-over-par overall, and just two off the lead.

The eagle on 17 was greeted with whoops of glee not just because the 25-putt sank, but here, dressed in vivid green, was the embodiment of the idea that nothing on this course this crazy week will be over till it's over.

The three-wood drive from the tee had been clever, down the left, and then the approach had been pin high, stealing back a few feet before it stopped. The finish was simply pin sharp.

Earlier in the round, on the second hole, a 421-yard par four, Harrington had birdied from a bunker, one of two new traps to the right of the green. A bogey on six was not that surprising. Figures as substantial as Colin Montgomerie and Phil Mickelson have doubled and tripled on that monster par four this week. Three more pars took Harrington out in 34.

Bogeys on 10 and 11 set back his cause and, briefly, cast a doubt over whether he would make the cut. He was six over at that stage, with the cut then projected at six or seven. But there were no more flaws, merely great scores, to be revealed.

Garcia, in contrast, had a 73 to leave him five over par and five shots off the pace, and three behind his nemesis from 12 months ago. He will not have gone back to his digs a happy bunny, especially since he missed an absolute gimme of an 18-inch putt on the 18th hole. It was doubly annoying for him and his supporters after rolling up up a 30-feet approach before the miss.

He argued that he had been overly careful. "I didn't rush it," he said. "I was more worried about other things than the putt itself. I was thinking about not treading on anyone else's line, whether or not I should mark it. Then you look up and realise you've missed it. That's what happens sometimes. But it's OK, I'm still alive.

"I feel like I still have a good chance and it's far from over. I've just got to make sure I don't make any mistakes at the weekend."

Garcia's putting has, ironically, been hot as vindaloo of late, which is one of the reasons he started the Open as the bookmakers' favourite. His confidence has even seen him get rid of the belly-putter he was using a year ago.

On a positive note, Garcia played some dazzling golf. Sporadically. On the par-three fourth his tee shot found the back of the green, and then a 70-foot downhill putt snaked in for a birdie. "A bomb" was how Garcia described it, but apart from a second birdie on the 17th there was not much consistency.

In good weather, he might have been better value to continue Spain's glorious sporting summer. In this stuff, even though he can be good in the wind, he is stuttering. "There are not a lot of birdie opportunities out there," he said. "On so many holes you're hitting long irons into the green. If you hit to 20 feet you're a happy camper. It's a great golf course."

For Harrington, certainly.