By Brian Keogh

Paul McGinley racked up the biggest number of his life today when he turned 40.

But the Dubliner has no need to feel downhearted about a nightmare year that was only brightened by his contribution to Europe’s Ryder Cup annihilation of the US at the K Club.

Close pal Padraig Harrington knows exactly what the problem is - because he’s been there before himself.

McGinley needs to believe that he really belongs at the top table and when he hauls himself off the floor he will return stronger than ever before.

Fiesty and competitive to the last, McGinley is raging about a year that he had hoped would signal his ascent into the upper stratosphere of world golf.

Instead, he has played poorly all season, slithering 53 places down the world rankings from 18th to 71st.

But Harrington is convinced that it is all in the mind and that once McGinley becomes comfortable with the idea of being a top-20 player he will push on and go even higher.

Analysing McGinley’s predicament, Harrington said: "When we get to a new level it might take us once or twice getting there before we feel comfortable there.

"So McGinley is going to be awful disappointed to be 70th in the world. But maybe at 20th he was thinking he was doing well.

"I believe that the next time he gets to 20th in the world, he will be pushing on. He will be thinking to himself that he feels comfortable there and will be capable of going forward."

"I know when I got to 14th in the world, I was thinking: ‘Wow, I am overachieving’ and it took me a long time to get comfortable there.

"That’s what happens when you get to a new level. You have to go there, go back and go back again before you feel like you belong there."

McGinley is certainly following the same path - despite his hope at the start of the year that he was ready to move up to the next level.

In the wake of his Volvo Masters win, he decided to plan a 2006 campaign playing on both sides of the Atlantic.

Despite his age, he felt the best was yet to come.

Full of hope starting the year, he said: "I feel I am now playing the best golf of my life and going to America is the next part of my golfing education.

"Yes I'm 39, but my best golfing years are still ahead of me. You have to remember that at 19 I was still playing off five handicap and I didn't turn pro until I was nearly 26.

"In terms of golfing years I am still young. Yes, I'm a late developer, but after the win at Valderrama I qualified to play at the next level."

From the highs of winning the Volvo Masters and caressing three other massive wins in the BMW Championship, the HSBC World Matchplay and the WGC NEC Invitational, he hardly raised a gallop in 2006.

From third in the Order of Merit, he slumped to 58th, took almost a stoke more per round and lost nearly 10 yards off his driving distance due to a massive technical problem.

Add to that his fourth knee operation, the stress of trying to hold on to his Ryder Cup place and the tragedy of Heather Clarke’s death, and it is easy to see why he struggled.

Harrington added: "Paul has had a terrible year compared to last year. It has got on top of him and he has been fighting it all year and that is the hardest position to be in.

"It is always harder when things are going against you. When you get momentum, things follow from it.

"Paul had the opposite momentum and he was fighting all along. Going from being 18th in the world to where he is now is not easy.

"Yes, he is a terrier and a fighter. But we are all like that. We all have our opinion of where we should be.

"Just two years ago he was pushing to get back in the top 50. So he got to 20th and felt that he had exceeded his expectations.

"Next time he will get comfortable there. I should know, it happened to me."