ABU DHABI // Padraig Harrington, the three-time major winner, is promising to be better prepared for the forthcoming Abu Dhabi Golf Championship than he has been on his two previous visits to the National course and the Irishman is eyeing the Falcon Trophy as his first big target of 2009. Harrington, the world No 5, yesterday confirmed his return to the capital to take his place in what is developing into a high-class field for the fourth running of the $US2million (Dh 7,346m) European Tour event.
The Dubliner and Spain's Sergio Garcia, the world No 3 who won last weekend's Castellon Masters on his home soil, are the latest to claim their positions in the 120-man line-up for the first leg of the "Desert Swing" from Jan 15-19. The Abu Dhabi tournament, which precedes those in Doha and Dubai, was officially launched yesterday when Harrington made a guest appearance on a video link. The Open and US PGA champion stressed the need to be on top of his game when he takes up residence in one of his favourite hotels on the world circuit - the Emirates Palace.
"In previous years I have tended to be caught up in doing some winter work on my game," said Harrington. "This time I will be ready to bring my A-game. I'll be good to go. "I feel it is a course I'm competitive on and I think I will be better prepared than I have been in other years. I am focusing hard on trying to win this tournament. It is an important week for me and one I can look forward to after Christmas where I will have the chance to work on my swing and my fitness."
Much as Harrington is looking forward to swapping the winter woes of the Irish weather with the glow of the desert sunshine, he will be sad to say goodbye to 2008 - a year that confirmed his status as a leading figure in the game. He is confident that his future is just as rosy, however, and said: "My swing is getting better and my ball striking is getting better so I believe I can improve as a player.
"I am comfortable that I can go on and win more big events. As long as I am getting myself in the right place approaching the back nine on the final day, I know that I have got the ability to win so that will be my goal for 2009. If I'm in that fight for the winner's place, I know I can do the business." Two of Harrington's three major triumphs were at the expense of his Ryder Cup colleague Garcia, whom he chased down and then beat in a play-off for the 2007 Open at Carnoustie and then held off by two strokes in this year's PGA at Oakland Hills.
Harrington played down any suggestion of bitterness between him and his Spanish friend because of the way those big tournaments have finished. "We have both been around a long time but we are totally different characters," he said. "So in that sense it is a really interesting rivalry. "We have met in a lot of tournaments coming down the stretch and I seem to have holed the putts at the right time."
Garcia, who has yet to win a major championship, is hoping to end that frustrating wait in 2009 and plans to hit the ground running in the Abu Dhabi tournament - an event in which he finished third behind the inaugural winner Chris DiMarco in 2006. "Playing in Abu Dhabi is always exciting," said Garcia. "The course is fantastic, the competition is always very intense and everyone wants to start the year well to build momentum ahead of a long season. It's going to be a tough tournament but it's always a good start to the year."
Garcia, 28, who is co-designing one of the four courses at Jumeirah Golf Estates which will host the Dubai World Championship, is a big fan of the UAE and is now taking enthusiastic notice of the capital's progress as a golf centre. "Abu Dhabi is developing so quickly," he said. "Barely a day goes by where Abu Dhabi is not mentioned doing something new and significant." @Email:email@example.com