McGinley on upward curve

PAUL MCGINLEY had been down in the dumps about his status as a professional golfer prior to finishing a splendid second behind Mark O’Meara in the Dubai Desert Classic on Sunday.

Obviously, it was very difficult for a man who finished eighth in the European order of merit in 2001 and was 35th in the world rankings to travel to the Desert Classic last week with his standings as low as 64th and 159th respectively. He admitted it was a long way short of his expectations and was determined to get his career back on track. He certainly went the right way about it and finishing a shot behind O’Meara on 16 under par was no disgrace. He picked up a cheque for €178,619 that moved him up to 11th in the order of merit with €200,118 and to 101st in the world ranking.

That’s nothing to write home about yet. He is an almost certain non-starter in the Masters in a month’s time and unless he maintains his progress consistently over the coming weeks, his only hope of playing the US Open will be to either get into the top 50 in the world or pre-qualify. The same applies to the British Open in July, while he needs to make the top 50 to take part in the lavishly-endowed world championships, the last of which is the American Express at Mount Juliet at the end of September.

Furthermore, there is still no sign of him in the Ryder Cup points lists, its own indication of how quiet things have been for the 37-year-old Dubliner. However, the graph is now once again on an upward curve and he will hope to keep it that way in Qatar this week where he is joined by fellow Irishmen Graeme McDowell, Graham Spring, Peter Lawrie, Gary Murphy and Damien McGrane.

Lawrie played some lovely golf in Dubai to finish nine under par for a cheque worth €32,580. Last season’s Rookie of the Year is now 42nd in the order of merit with €56,247 and well on the way to achieving his ambition to retain his card before the season really gets into swing.

Murphy is hoping to do likewise although he spoiled two fine opening rounds last week with a 76 on Saturday that tumbled him back down the field. Wexford pro Damien McGrane is nothing if not a gritty character and he hung in well for a share of 17th and a prize of €20,791.

Padraig Harrington continues his slow build-up to the campaign by taking the next two weeks off before leaving for an intensive month in the United States.

He plays in the so-called “fifth major”, the Tournament Players Championship, at Sawgrass, where he finished runner-up last year, on March 25-28 and from there to Atlanta for the Bell South, his final outing before the Masters at Augusta on April 8-11.

There is every chance that he will take part in a new-look, multi-sponsored Irish PGA Championship at St Margaret’s the following weekend before returning to the world stage in the first week of May in the new Wachovia event on the US Tour followed by his defence of both the BMW Asia Open in Shanghai, China and the Deutsche Bank TPC of Europe in Hamburg.

Although Darren Clarke missed his fourth cut in six outings this year (he was third in the other two!), he remains top of the European order of merit. Rugby is his other sporting love and Darren has been quietly celebrating Ireland’s victory over England while wondering just what went wrong in Dubai.

He returns to the fray in the Bay Hill Classic in Florida on March 18-21 before moving on to the Players Championship. He then takes a week off before returning to the States for the Masters and the Heritage Classic at Hilton Head.

Irish order of merit placings after Dubai Desert Classic: 1st Darren Clarke €449,122; 5th Padraig Harrington €296,474; 11th Paul McGinley €200,118; 42nd Peter Lawrie €56,247; 76th Damien McGrane €26,656; 79th Gary Murphy €24,443; 113th Graeme McDowell €13,057.

Ryder Cup World Points List: 1st Clarke; 2nd Miguel-Angel Jimenez; 3rd Fredrik Jacobson; 4th Lee Westwood; 5th Harrington; 6th Brian Davis; 7th Thomas Bjorn; 8th Ian Poulter; 9th Raphael Jacquelin; 10th Paul Casey.

Ryder Cup European Points List: 1st Westwood; 2nd Clarke; 3rd Jacobson; 4th Jimenez; 5th Davis; 6th Poulter; 7th Harrington; 8th Jacquelin; 9th Carlos Rodiles; 10th Maarten Lafeber.

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