Harrington birdied five of his closing 11 holes in a round of 67 for a 12-under par tally on the Durban Country course yesterday.
South African and world No 6 Louis Oosthuizen captured the title, coming from five shots behind Scotland’s Scott Jamieson.
The 2010 British Open champion recorded a 66, the joint best of the day, to take the €350,000 first prize by one shot from Jamieson — his sixth European Tour title and one that elevates him to a career-high fourth in the world.
It was Harrington’s best result to the start of a new year since he shared fifth in the 2007 HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship.
In fact, the triple Major winner took 11 fewer shots than when he made his European Tour debut in 1996 on the Durban Country Club course when he shared 49th place on one under par.
“I’m delighted with my finish and I could not have asked for a better start to the new year,” he said.
Shane Lowry may have to wait for another week to break into the world’s top 50, with the current No 52 needing to end among the top eight finishers in Durban to pick up the two spots on the rankings he needs.
“Whatever the outcome when the rankings are adjusted I am pretty pleased with a top-10 in my first event,” he said.
“Taking a double at 11 was annoying but the birdie at the last was a big bonus.”
Darren Clarke also heads to the UAE capital with his spirits lifted after picking up four birdies over his inward nine to finish with a 69 on five under par.
“I really didn’t play all that well this week and it was a battling four under par for the holes, so hopefully it is a sign of better things to come next week in Abu Dhabi,” said Clarke.
After a sterling 66 on Saturday, Michael Hoey and expectant wife Bev are also headed to Abu Dhabi with the Belfast golfer shooting a disappointing last-day 73 for a three-under-par tally.
“It was a very frustrating finish after playing so well the day before as I just had so many putts lip out today,” said Hoey.
“I walked off with absolutely nothing today and now looking forward to putting on some superb greens this coming week in the HSBC event.”
Hoey revealed his wife of two years is expecting the couple’s first child on the Monday of Irish Open week.
“We’ve timed it perfectly,” said Hoey smiling.
Meanwhile, Scotland’s Jamieson will not forget Durban in a hurry — but not for all the right reasons now.
The 29-year-old from Glasgow just missed out on earning his second win in the South African city in six weeks when home star Oosthuizen pipped him at the post.
Jamieson, who was looking to add the trophy to his Nelson Mandela Championship win at Royal Durban last month, almost forced a play-off, but his chip for eagle on the 273-yard 18th stopped two inches from the hole.
Instead he became the first player since South African Hennie Otto five years ago to lose a European Tour event from five clear with a round to go.