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Harrington targets Ryder Cup joy

By Karl MacGinty

Padraig Harrington makes no bones about it. His prospects of playing in the Ryder Cup for the seventh successive time in September are hanging by a thread.

“I’ve obviously put myself in a very precarious place,” is how the Dubliner candidly assesses his current position in the race for a place the European team in Chicago.

Harrington endured his worst season as a professional in 2011, while his gradual decline as a global icon over the past three years was underlined by the recent decision of his primary sponsor, US business consultancy giant FTI, not to renew the US$10m contract they agreed with the Irishman at the peak of his Major-winning achievements in 2008.

Since then, Harrington has slumped from World No three to 85th and the 40-year-old needs to come out swinging in the next four weeks if he’s to put his Ryder Cup qualifying campaign and, indeed, his career back on track.

From the moment he tees it up in the first round of the Volvo Golf Champions in South Africa on Thursday week, Harrington will be under intense pressure to deliver ranking points. Effectively, he must force his way up to 64th on the global ladder in his first three tournaments to clinch a place in next month’s Accenture Match Play at Tucson.

Then the 40-year-old has to fight his way back into the world’s elite top-50 by March 5 if he’s to play in that week’s Cadillac Championship in Doral, the second World Golf Championship of the season.

Though eligible for all four Majors in 2012 after his stunning feats in 2007 and 2008, Harrington will stymie himself badly in the Ryder Cup race and risk severe scheduling headaches on the US and European Tours should he fail to make it to Tucson, Doral or the season’s third WGC at Firestone in August.

So he must hit the ground running at Fancourt.

Harrington by-passes the Qatar Masters as he heads to California for the AT&T National Pro-Am at Pebble Beach.

“I actually finished 2011 in a very positive frame of mind,” he said. As for his early-season schedule, Harrington explained that by adding the Volvo Champions to his usual early-season schedule: “I’ve given myself three tournaments to get in there (the Match Play).

“I’m playing most of the events I can in that stretch,” he went on. “If I played Qatar, that would be five tournaments in a row, six if I got into the Match Play. I’m always going to play Pebble Beach and Riviera. They are the two events with the most favourable conditions for my game I’ll probably come across in the US, so I’m unlikely to miss them.”

Starting the year in 39th place in the European Points List and 47th in the World Ranking category, Harrington is under no illusions about his prospects of making the top-five in either and winning automatic selection for the Ryder Cup.

“By dropping out of the world top-50, I’ve put myself in a very difficult spot trying to get onto what clearly is going to be a very difficult team to make,” he admitted.

“I didn’t make it into last year’s HSBC, the Dubai World Championship, the Nedbank in Sun City or Tiger’s tournament, the Chevron, and by not being in these limited field events, you miss the opportunity to rack up easy ranking points.”

Harrington blames only himself. “Because I didn’t play well last year, any points I make this year will have to be hard-earned. Basically, I’m not going to make the team by having an average year.”

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