Do-or-die time for Harrington in battle to secure place at crucial WGC tournaments
THE walls are closing in on Padraig Harrington. As he adds next month's UBS Hong Kong Open to his playing schedule, Harrington knows his performance in three tournaments over the next four weeks will have a profound impact on his destiny well into 2012.
The Dubliner's short-term target as he teed it up at the Barclays Singapore Open on Sentosa Island early today was to earn enough money in those three tournaments to make it into the 60-man field at the prestigious finale to the European Tour season, the Dubai World Championship.
At present, the 40-year-old Irishman is 74th in the Race to Dubai, and must bank around ¿150,000 more to be sure of his place at the end-of-year showpiece.
Of longer-term significance to the three-times Major winner, however, is the prospect of winning enough world ranking points to get back into, or within touching distance of, the world's top 50 before the turn of the year.
In the 39 months since completing sensational back-to-back victories at the 2008 Open and PGA Championships, Harrington has slumped to 79th on the global ladder.
Already this has caused him to miss last week's HSBC Champions in Shanghai, the first World Golf Championship in which Harrington has not played since the event came into being 12 years ago.
The job of fulfilling conditions of membership of both the European and US PGA Tour will become a lot more complicated for Harrington if he misses any more WGC events which, of course, count on both tour schedules.
From today, Harrington knows he must start producing results to match the quality of golf he has played since his summertime switch to new coach Pete Cowen. If not, he will face intense and unprecedented scheduling headaches in the New Year, with having to qualify for next September's Ryder Cup compounding the pressure.
Harrington accepted as much in Singapore on Tuesday when he said: "I'm very mindful that if I don't get into the WGC events, it's going to be very difficult for me to get into the Ryder Cup. I've got to play well next year in the right events, otherwise the Ryder Cup won't happen for me."
Given their somewhat complicated past, 2012 captain Jose Maria Olazabal is unlikely to be as enthusiastic about giving the Irishman a wild card as was Celtic Manor skipper Colin Montgomerie.
At least there have been positive performance indicators for Harrington, who has impressed Cowen with the progress he has made with his new swing. "Padraig's hitting the ball very well," said the Yorkshire man. "It would not surprise me in the least if he managed to win in the next few weeks."
The problem for Harrington at present is to get the usually reliable elements of his game, his wedge play and putting, back into top working order.
"The last tournament I played (the Shanghai Masters a fortnight ago), I finished eighth and I missed 21 putts from about 12 to 15 feet," Harrington said. "That's a lot of putts. You need a few putts to drop. It's the difference between winning and doing okay."
Looking forward to the action-packed weeks ahead, he went on: "I'm playing here in Singapore, defending next week just across the Malaysian border in Johor and I've added Hong Kong to my schedule. I need one big, top-three finish to get into the Dubai World Championship but I still have to remain patient."
Harrington, second to Jeev Milkha Singh in Singapore in 2008 after an infuriating three-putt on the final green, teed it up with Phil Mickelson and former US PGA Champion YE Yang in the feature group early today.
Despite a monster $6m purse in Singapore, Mickelson, returning after a month-long beak in time to warm up for next week's Presidents Cup, is one of just three players from the world's top-20 at Sentosa.
The others are Justin Rose and Graeme McDowell, the Portrush man once again walking with a confident swagger after banishing memories of his nightmare weekend in Valderrama with an impressive third place in Shanghai last Sunday.
It's a mark of McDowell's changing fortune that he even led his team to victory in yesterday's pro-am.
Harrington needs to turn his season around in equally dramatic fashion over the next four weeks... or else!