Putting revamp fires Padraig back into top 50
ABU DHABI airport was festooned with posters excitedly advising visitors of this week's 'Clash of the Giants' between Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods ... yet Padraig Harrington is one man ready, willing and probably able to ensure the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship doesn't go to script.
Harrington's fourth-place finish behind Louis Oosthuizen in last Sunday's Volvo Champions in Durban propelled the Dubliner back across a significant watershed.
For the first time in 18 months, Harrington found himself among the elite top 50 when the latest world rankings were officially published yesterday, suggesting a winter of hard work on his putting had resolved at last a persistent source of frustration.
Harrington knows his way around the challenging championship course at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, having recorded a couple of good finishes here in 2007 and 2009. With his putter back in form, the 42-year-old Dubliner certainly is capable of going low this week.
Second only to Oosthuizen on the greens at Durban Country Club, Harrington conceded: "The big plus is that I putted well. It's a good sign and I'm happy about that going forward.
"I did a lot of work on it over the winter. I did a lot of changing and pulled apart just about everything in my putting," added the three-time Major winner, who now stands at No 48 in the world.
Typical of his first outing after his close season, Harrington confessed he was "very ropey from tee to green" in South African and "hit a lot of bad shots".
"But I liked what I saw on Sunday. There was some improvement," he said of his closing 68.
"I hit better shots and found the middle of the clubface more often. I kind of figured out what I was doing wrong and saw some good things."
Despite an eight-hour overnight flight from South Africa to the Arabian Desert, Harrington still turned up for a session with swing coach Pete Cowen on the range at Abu Dhabi Golf Club yesterday.
It underscored Harrington's determination to remain in the upper echelons of the world rankings and figure in next month's Accenture Match Play in Tucson and the Cadillac Championship at Doral in March – the Irishman hasn't played in the World Golf Championship arena since Firestone in August 2011.
Shane Lowry fell back two places to 54th in the rankings after sharing ninth place in Durban, but the Clara man arrived in Abu Dhabi yesterday with high hopes that he can edge closer to his top-50 goal with two and a half months to go before the cut-off for Masters qualification.