ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Padraig Harrington understands that matching his remarkable performance from last season is a considerable challenge.
So, he might as well try to surpass it.
In better shape than he has been in years, the popular Irishman who captured the British Open and PGA Championship last year begins a campaign full of expectations Thursday at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, the first of a three-event European Tour “Desert Swing.”
“It would be hard to set goals based on last year,” Harrington said. “So, I’m trying to focus on the process and just trying to improve my game. I worked out a lot during the break, not only on my game and in the gym, but also with my psyche.
“I do believe I’ll be a better player this year,” he added. “That doesn’t necessarily mean that my results will be better, but over time, it will even itself out.”
Second-ranked Sergio Garcia and third-ranked Harrington lead a strong field into the $2 million tournament, which has drawn a number of players who might otherwise have played the PGA Tour’s Sony Open in Hawaii.
Among them are Masters champion Trevor Immelman of South Africa, defending champion Martin Kaymer of Germany, Spanish standout Miguel Angel Jimenez, Australians Robert Allenby and Aaron Baddeley, and Indian star Jeev Milkha Singh.
Harrington beat Garcia in a playoff for the 2007 British Open in Carnoustie and also held off the Spaniard’s challenge at the PGA Championship.
Garcia, who leads the European Tour’s new Race to Dubai after winning the season-opening HSBC Champions in Shanghai, plans to play all three Gulf events. Doha and Dubai are the other two.
“This is going to be an important year for me and I’m looking forward to getting into a good rhythm and get some good emotions in these next three weeks,” Garcia said. “I love this particular stretch of European Tour.”
With Tiger Woods still working back from knee surgery, Garcia has a chance to gain ground on the world’s top-ranked player – and perhaps even overtake him.
“Of course, I have a chance. It could happen if I get going the right way. I have to play very well,” Garcia said. “But it’s not something that’s a do-or-die for me. Winning a major has always been a goal for me. But if I become the No. 1, nothing is going to change for me.”