Padraig Harrington’s first task as European No 1 will be to take on Tiger Woods in next week’s 2007 season opener in China.

The Dubliner is officially the top dog in Europe because he played the minimum 11 events needed for European Tour membership.

But Woods was still the unofficial European No 1 by a long, long way after amassing five wins from just 10 European Tour events in 2006 and a juicy €5.75 million.

In fact, Woods would have won the Order of Merit with at least €2.7 million with spare over Harrington and the rest had he played just one more event.

With the four majors and three individual World Golf Championships counting towards the European Tour money list, Woods also played the HSBC Champions Tournament, the Dubai Desert Classic and the HSBC World Match Play this season.

If Harrington wants to take the first step towards major championship glory, he will have to start finishing ahead of the world No 1 on a regular basis - starting in next week’s HSBC Champions Tournament.

He did it in 2002, when he outduelled Tiger to win the unofficial Target World Challenge in California.

But that was the only time he managed to win an event with Woods in the field and if he is to step up and win majors, he can take a giant step in the right direction with victory in the HSBC event at the Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai.

Harrington said: "To have won the Order of Merit makes me very proud and hopefully I can keep going forward and can carry the flag of European Number One well for a year.

"Who knows? Maybe I can come back better and stronger and win it again!

"I am already looking forward to the HSBC Champions as a win there would be the perfect start to the 2007 race and it would be very special to win the ‘Champion of Champions’ title.”

Woods, though, is determined to go one better than his runner-up finish behind England's David Howell last year and looking for his seventh successive stroke play victory.

The star-studded field also includes World No 2 Jim Furyk, HSBC World Match Play champion Paul Casey and defending champion Howell.

Woods is the man to beat after seven successive strokeplay wins - a run that started with his emotional win in the Open at Hoylake in July.

Since then he has won the Buick Open, the US PGA Championship, the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, the Deutsche Bank Championship and the WGC-American Express Championship titles.

The opening event on the 2007 European Tour International Schedule would be Woods' 10th tournament success of 2006 - the year in which he celebrated 10 years as a professional but which was overshadowed by the loss of his father and mentor after a long battle with cancer.

Woods said: “I am really excited to return to China. I have had a great year and think it would be really special to top off my year by winning the Champion of Champions title.

“There is a real buzz about golf in China and that is only going to grow as the game’s popularity increases.

“It was an amazing week last year and I really enjoyed seeing a bit of Shanghai city when HSBC arranged for me to hit balls over the historic area of The Bund – although I wasn’t quite long enough to hit all the way over!"

Harrington faces a hectic finish to his season with two more clashes with Woods after the Shanghai showdown.

The pair will meet in the Dunlop Phoenix event in Japan the week after the HSBC Champions and again in the year-ending Target World Challenge.

On his return from Japan, Harrington will play in the Nedbank Million Dollar Challenge in South Africa and the World Cup with Paul McGinley in Barbados before finishing off his year in Woods' invitational event in Los Angeles.

Tiger on European Tour 2006

HSBC Champions Tournament 2nd €469,692

Dubai Desert Classic 1st €329,760

WGC - Accenture Match Play Championship 9T €104,989

Masters Tournament 3T € 260,070

US Open Championship 82T € 1,582.79

135th Open Championship 1st €1,045,965

US PGA Championship 1st €959,469

WGC - Bridgestone Invitational 1st €1,014,833

HSBC World Match Play Championship 9T € 61,971

WGC-American Express Championship 1st €1,015,944

TOTAL €5,264,275