Harrington sets sights on new horizons

SIXTH in the world and convinced he can improve still further. That was Padraig Harrington's assessment after his outstanding victory in the Dunhill Links Championship at the weekend.

It bumped him up three places in the world ranking to a career best with only Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and Sergio Garcia ahead of him.

Given that his St Andrews triumph was worth 818,662, which brought his official earnings for the season to 2.45m and his career total to 7.7million, money is no longer an

issue for the 31-year-old Dubliner. Now, it's more about world ranking points, European order of merit points and the personal satisfaction of performing to the best of his potential.

"I'm very happy with sixth in the world and the good news is I know I can get better," he declared. "There are loads of things I have to work on, including the mental side of the game. When I was 14th in the world or thereabouts, there were always fellows right behind me while the gap between me and those in front was pretty wide. Now I have jumped that barrier.

"There are about four of us in a cluster, Garcia is only 400,000 ahead of me so I have him in my sights, while David Toms and Vijay Singh are immediately behind. But those between 8th and 10th are well back."

So Harrington is looking forward to a lengthy stay in the world top 10 and now turns his attention to leading the European Tour money list. He is around 44,000 behind leader Goosen and just over 6,000 adrift of second-placed Els. The probability is that Els won't play again this year in Europe and, if so, it becomes a straight fight between Goosen and Harrington.

Surprisingly, Goosen hasn't entered this week's Lancome Trophy, an event never in Harrington's plans, so it all boils down to what happens in the Madrid Open on October 24-27 and the Volvo Masters on November 7-10.

Harrington considered changing his schedule to fit in the Italian Open at the end of October but has decided against that. Goosen will be defending in Madrid, a tournament offering 1.4 million, one Harrington has won on two occasions. But there is now a consensus that it hinges on what happens in the Volvo Masters with its massive prize fund of 3.2m.

"I wasn't thinking about the order of merit before but now it obviously figures very much in my plans," said Harrington. "I won the Volvo Masters at Montecastillo last year but we're switching to Valderrama this time and that suits me. I love the golf course, it's a thinking man's course, and I've always done well in the tournament itself."

Harrington flew back to Dublin from Scotland on Sunday night courtesy of the private plane of JP

McManus. The two men celebrated their victory in the team event while Harrington spent much of yesterday watching the replay of the Dunhill Links.

He admitted he is glad to have this week off so he can savour the Ryder Cup triumph and the Dunhill to look back upon the two best weeks of his career to date.

"I could have finished last at St Andrews and still enjoyed it. The team victory was everything and to win

independently was hugely important. I suppose I enjoyed the Ryder Cup more but I proved a lot to myself by winning the Dunhill. It was a great confidence booster. I really wanted it. I think I won because I wanted it more."

Harrington had to battle for every shot on Sunday and the manner in which he holed his birdie putt on the 18th to bring the contest into extra time and then negotiated another at the second in "sudden death" spoke volumes for his mental capacity and, of course, his putting stroke.

"I stuck to my game plan," he said. "Many came and challenged but in the end it was between Eduardo and

myself. The only time I didn't feel in control was at the 16th where I hit a poor second and three putted to fall back to 18 under.

"I hadn't looked at a scoreboard until then and I was relieved and surprised to see Eduardo was the only one on 19 under and that nobody had got to 20. The last three at St Andrews are great holes to be behind on as you can always pick up a birdie.

"To give him his due, Eduardo made three pars but I got the birdie on the last. As I said, I wanted it more. It has been suggested that my game plan was conservative but my brother Tadhg and my golf psychologist Bob Rotella have been telling me I was inclined to get over aggressive on Sundays. They claimed I was trying to win too early on Sunday when the pin positions are tougher and the pressure is on.

"Bob keeps telling me an aggressive shot under pressure has to be struck perfectly and it's often wiser to opt for the simple shot. I remembered that at the 10th, 12th and 18th. I could have gone with the driver at them all and ended up short of the green leaving myself with a pitch and run, a shot I hadn't practised.

Why not play a simple shot, like the four iron I hit off the 10th tee, and leave myself with a nice sand wedge to the flag. What's the difference?

"I didn't birdie 10 and 12 but I didn't go for the greens simply because I didn't have a huge amount of confidence in my driving. Okay, I hit nine out of 10 very well but there was also one bad one out of 10. Why put myself under pressure? Why not hit a simple shot and leave myself with another simple shot?

If you play the simple shot, you're not on edge, you're not burning yourself out. I wasn't conservative, I just always looked to play the simple shot."

Between the Ryder Cup and the Dunhill, the American Express World Championship has been pushed to the back of Harrington's mind, but he stressed how proud he was that the course where he is tournament professional was praised by all the players.

"I was very pleased at how many of the pros came up to me to stress how much they had enjoyed Mount Juliet. They couldn't believe the condition of the course and the delightful ambience of the place in general. It has been suggested the course was too easy but I don't agree. It wasn't tricked up, it was very fair and pleasant, and everybody enjoyed playing it."

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