Padraig Harrington could hardly believe he was European No 1.

Striding into the press tent with a smile as broad as the 18th fairway at St Andrews, he grabbed the updated money list and joked: "I need to see the Order of Merit, just to prove it."

His journey to the top of European golf and a place in the annals of the game alongside names like Henry Cotton, Bobby Locke, Seve Ballesteros, Greg Norman, Nick Faldo and Ernie Els is like a dream come true.

And that's because Harrington never thought he would be anything other than a journeyman pro.

A brilliant amateur career was the only thing that prompted him to turn his back on accountancy in 1996 and hit the tour

He won in his rookie season and has slowly but surely climbed nearly every rung in the ladder.

He said: "I'm proud that I never lost a singles match in either the Home Internationals or the European Team Championships and that for 18 months before I turned professional, I was never beaten in Ireland over 36 holes, in qualifying events or strokeplay.

"There's also no question that if it hadn't been for my unbeaten record in singles for Ireland that I wouldn't have turned professional.

"In those internationals I was coming up against the cream of the amateur crop at their peak and I wasn't losing to them.

"That, more than anything, convinced me to turn professional. Now, I didn't think I'd be very good as a pro. Starting out I thought I'd do well to be a journeyman pro, but that international record made the difference.

"If I had been losing my singles matches for Ireland no question, I'd have gone on to be an accountant."

The rest his history as they say.

Apart from his three Ryder Cup wins he also has 16 professional tournament titles and the Vardon Trophy for the leading money winner on his mantelpiece.

All that remains is a major.

He said: "Obviously the focus for the last while has been on the majors, without a doubt.

"The US Open this year and the Open at Muirfield a few years ago are the only two that I've played well enough to have won.

"In the US Open this year I felt very comfortable and that gives me confidence that I can go on and win a major.

"Winning the Order of Merit is a distinctly different thing but something that nevertheless I'm very proud to have done."

There can be no doubt now that he is the best player in the world never to have won a major title.

While Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia are just ahead of him in the World Rankings, Harrington's status as European No 1 makes him the leading candidate to break Europe's seven year wait for a major winner next season.

How the Order of Merit was won


Harrington's year by year progression


Year OOM position Money


1996 11th €399,034

1997 8th €544,575

1998 29th €291,220

1999 7th €855,163

2000 7th €1,350, 921

2001 2nd €2,090,166

2002 2nd €2,334,655

2003 3rd €1,555,623

2004 3rd €1,910,394

2005 32nd €671,616

2006 1st €2,489,336

Total money in Europe - €14,492,702


2006 European Tour record

HSBC Champions Tournament 15T € 59076.10

Maybank Malaysian Open 13T € 15457.20

WGC - Accenture Match Play Championship 5T € 201579.04

Masters Tournament 27T € 40942.42

Quinn Direct British Masters 14T € 34981.18

Nissan Irish Open 11 € 40480.00

BMW Championship 6T € 112540.00

US Open Championship 5 € 202313.19

Open de France ALSTOM 2 € 444440.00

The Smurfit Kappa European Open 20T € 38779.06

135th Open Championship 123T € 3268.64

The Deutsche Bank Players Championship of Europe 28T € 31500.00

US PGA Championship 124T € 1567.76

WGC - Bridgestone Invitational 27T € 47228.79

BMW International Open 2T € 173710.00

XXXII Banco Madrid Valle Romano Open de Madrid Golf Masters 4T € 46200.00

WGC-American Express Championship 17T € 66427.15

Alfred Dunhill Links Championship 1 € 630566.36

Mallorca Classic CUT

Volvo Masters 2T € 298,280.00