Top dog Padraig Harrington racked up the sweetest second place finish of his career in the Volvo Masters to snatch the Order of Merit from Paul Casey.

The Dubliner had suffered the heart-break of the runner’s up spot 29 times in his 11-year professional journey.

But his 30th second place meant more than all the others put together when he stood proudly on the top rung of the European professional golf ladder for the first time.

It took some sensational short game brilliance over the closing holes of a final round 69 for Harrington to capture the Vardon Trophy for the leading money winner by just €35,252.

Eight singles putts in a row on the last eight holes left him in a three-way tie for second with Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald and proudly standing at the summit of European golf as successor to Colin Montgomerie.

With Casey finishing tied for 21st place earlier in the day, Harrington needed to finish second at worst to earn enough cash to overhaul his Ryder Cup team mate the top of the Order of Merit.

Sheer willpower got him over the line in the end, with the key being two vital par saves at the last two holes.

And Harrington said: “When I made it 29 second places at the BMW International in Munich I was thinking, what am I going to say at my 30th, it’s going to be a milestone.

“Well this is one way to get over the 30th second place nicely. As I’ve always said, sometimes it’s very good to finish second and if that’s the best you can do in a given week it’s great.

“Obviously it adds up to a lot on the Order of Merit today. I feel very disappointed for Paul Casey. A lot of things conspired against him this week with his illness and then for the exact number to come up at the end of the day.

“I should have been playing the Euro Lotto this week. The bookies had Paul 7 to 1 on from the start of the week so that basically meant they thought it was a sure thing.”

Harrington looked anything but a sure thing to grab the second place he needed to win the money title when he bogeyed the first two holes yesterday.

Then, having hauled himself up to third place with birdies at the fourth, 11th, 14th and 16th, he looked to have thrown all his hard work away by pulling his four-iron approach to the par-five 17th into the water.

His odds on becoming European No 1 soared to 40-1 with the on-line bookmakers Betfair at that stage but he managed to get up and down from short of the water, holing from eight feet for par.

As an encore he produced an even more stunning par save at the last that was vital in his bid to become the third Irish winner of the Vardon Trophy after Christy O’Connor Snr in 1961 and 1962 and Ronan Rafferty in 1989.

After pulling his three-wood tee shot way left into the trees, he pushed his second shot into the right-hand rough but pitched to four feet from 62 yards and rolled in his 24th putt of the day to finish on one under par.

The Dubliner then headed to the player’s lounge with his wife Caroline, his son Paddy (3) and members of his extended family and had an agonising 60-minute wait to see if Garcia and Singh would deny him the second place he needed to become No 1.

Garcia was just one stroke behind the Indian on two under par with two to play but failed to birdie the 17th and then bogeyed the last to hand the Dubliner a life-line in the shape of a tie for second.

Singh also bogeyed the last but his round of one over par 72 was enough to give him the winner’s cheque for €666,660 and a five year exemption for the European Tour.

Harrington earned €298,280 to finish at the top of the money list with earnings of €2.48 million with Casey second, David Howell third and Robert Karlsson in fourth,.

And he was obviously delighted to achieve a career goal he rates as just one step below the Majors in terms of its importance.

He said: “It’s been a big goal of mine over the years to win the Order of Merit. I’ve come a long way.

“When I started off I said I would be happy to be a journeyman pro. So to be leading the Order of Merit after ten years and to have won it, I’ve come ever so far.

“It’s a very proud moment for me and hopefully I’ll move on from here and keep going forward and hopefully I’ll carry the flag of European No 1 for a year and, who knows, come back next year stronger and win it again.”

After holing for birdie at the 11th for the first of eight single putts, he got up and down for pars at the 12th and 13th and then holed from 14 feet for birdie at the 14th to get back to level par for the tournament.

A pulled tee shot at the par three 15th forced him to save par from eight feet before he rolled in a massive 35 footer for birdie at the 16th.

And while he deserves every credit for his dogged back nine performance and those brilliant par saves at the last two holes, he was generous in his praise of caddie and close pal Ronan Flood for his support on the bag.

Until the last eight holes, little had gone right for the Dubliner in terms of luck on the greens.

But he was proud to admit afterwards that the influence of his caddie and his own display of sheer willpower, was the difference in the end

Harrington explained: “I had a very strange week. I played 63 holes of great golf and had so many three putts and so many misses and all sort of things.

“My caddie just kept pushing me on to just keep concentrating and doing my thing and not to worry about the results, just to stay focussed on what I was doing.

“I did stay very calm, I never lost patience over those 63 holes. Then I came to the back nine and got a couple of bad breaks early on again but for some reason the last nine holes, it was vintage Harrington.

“I just willed the ball into the hole. I was just going to get it up- and-down and that was it.

“My caddie has always been very important for me. I think I’ve always wanted a caddie to chat on the golf course and keep things light.”

Harrington revealed that he made an important change shortly after making three closing bogeys in the US Open at Winged Foot to blow his chances of winning his first Major.

After finishing fifth there, he said: “Form then it was his job not just to keep things light on the golf course but also to remind me to do the things that I’ve been told to do by Bob Rotella (my psychologist).

“At the funniest times Ronan can say it’s time to just keep doing your thing and not worry about what anybody else is doing and just keep the head up and keep going.

“This is what Ronan has been reminding me of. On the first two holes I’ve made two bogeys off good irons shots. But it’s not what happens in one shot.

“It’s not about getting upset about things not going your way. It’s a long process and his jon was to remind me just to keep going and keep playing.

“I kept my focus, it was just excellent all week. I kept my head in the right place and never got down about anything that happened.

“Thankfully I didn’t run out of holes. There were five holes left where things turned around and went all my way.”

Final Order of Merit

1 Padraig Harrington (Ireland) €2,489,336

2 Paul Casey (England) €2,454,084

3 David Howell (England) €2,321,166

4 Robert Karlsson (Sweden) €2,044,935

5 Ernie Els (South Africa) €1,716,208

6 Henrik Stenson (Sweden) €1,709,359

7 Luke Donald (England) €1,658,058

8 Ian Poulter (England) €1,589,074

9 Colin Montgomerie (Scotland) €1,534,747

10 Johan Edfors (Sweden) €1,505,583

Selected Irish

43 Darren Clarke (N. Ireland) €583,348

52 Paul McGinley (Ireland) €478,244

56 Damien McGrane (Ireland) €447,415

58 Graeme McDowell (N Ireland) €437,801

67 Peter Lawrie (Ireland) €360,888.56

104 Gary Murphy (Ireland €220,781

127 David Higgins (Ireland) €169,638

153 Stephen Browne (Ireland) €€97,820

188 Michael Hoey (N Ireland) €50,414