Harrington aims for final flourish
TIGER WOODS and Padraig Harrington both will be hoping to bring a frustrating year to a glittering conclusion when they tee it up today on opposite sides of the planet.
Of the two, Tiger's need for a morale-boosting victory is far greater at the Chevron World Challenge, the tournament Woods himself hosts at Sherwood Country Club in the city of Thousands Oaks, about an hour away from where he grew up in Southern California.
Tiger has come home this week seeking the comfort and reassurance which only a win can bring after 12 months in which his personal life was rent asunder by the biggest sex scandal in golf history and his job on the course has been made more difficult by the swing change he's undertaken with new coach Sean Foley.
At least Harrington managed to pick up a victory in 2010, his success in last month's Johor Open on the Asian Tour ending an 18-month drought which stretched all the way back to the 2008 US PGA.
Yet those heady days when the Dubliner strutted confidently to three victories in six Major Championships seemed dim and distant last Sunday as Harrington signed for a disheartening final round 76 and a share of 39th place at The Dubai World Championship.
"There's no doubt about it, when I was out there (last Sunday) some part of me was wishing that it was the last round of the year," Harrington confessed. "But after finishing that way, I'm keen to get out this week and have another go."
The Irishman joins four of his Ryder Cup comrades in an elite 12-man field at The Nedbank Challenge in Sun City, where World No 1 Lee Westwood inevitably starts as favourite.
However, Irish Open champion Ross Fisher, ageless Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez and Italian hotshot Edoardo Molinari all command respect after their tournament-winning feats this season.
Host-nation, South Africa, is represented by Ernie Els, a three-times winner of this event; 2004 Nedbank Champion Retief Goosen; Louis Oosthuizen, who ran away with The Open at St Andrews last July, and Tim Clark, the 2010 US Players Champion.
With Aussie Robert Allenby defending at Sun City, the $1m first prize will not be easily won.
More important to Harrington than the cheque, however, would be the confidence boost that victory would bring.
Looking back on 2010, he said: "There were only a handful of tournaments I was able to walk away from and say I couldn't have got much more out of that week.
"Though I was well placed going into Sunday a lot of times and a good score would have given me the chance to contend, I ended-up shooting an average of 73 or 74 and finishing 20th -- sort of flattering to deceive.
"Yet there have been a lot of good signs so, hopefully, it just goes down as one of those years," added Harrington, saying he "looked forward keenly" to "making a fresh start" in 2011.
Woods is likely to keep a weather eye on the telecast from Sun City as Westwood's performance at the Nedbank will have a direct bearing on his prospects of returning to the top of the world this weekend.
Should Woods win at Sherwood, he'll need Westwood to finish outside the Nedbank top-two if he's to leapfrog the Englishman back to No 1.
Yet the trauma Tiger endured in 2010 has taken a toll of his game, especially his putting.
"As a golfer, I learned so much more this year than any other year, and as a person infinitely more," he said.
"It's been a very successful year even though it was a very painful year."
So, it's probably wise to look elsewhere in the 18-man field for a winner.
In the absence of Race to Dubai champion Martin Kaymer, who controversially withdrew last Sunday and went instead to La Manga to caddie for girlfriend Alison Micheletti in this week's second stage of Ladies European Tour Q-School, Europe is still strongly represented.
Ireland's Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy didn't endure the marathon 17-hour flight from Dubai with Ian Poulter, Paul Casey and Luke Donald for nothing.
Of course, McDowell finished second to Jim Furyk at Sherwood last year, copper-fastening his place in the world's elite top-50 and setting himself up for a season of stellar achievement, including victory at June's US Open on his last visit to California.
The Portrush hero would be forgiven if his competitive edge was not as sharp this week, though McIlroy, McDowell's playing companion today, certainly will be hungry for another win on American soil following his success at Quail Hollow last May.
Officially, the season has ended in Europe and the USA, but the excitement goes on.
Nedbank Challenge, Sky Sp 3, 9.0am
Chevron Challenge, Sky Sp 3, 9.0pm