From Brian Keogh in California

King of Europe Padraig Harrington believes he will be better than ever in 2007.

But the Dubliner still rates Europe’s Ryder Cup win at The K Club as the highlight of his year - despite beating Tiger Woods in a play-off and being crowned European No 1 for the first time.

After closing with a 71 to finish eighth behind a rampant Woods in the Target World Challenge in California, Harrington reflected on a massive year and his hopes for next season.

And it is the Ryder Cup and those unforgettable scenes at the K Club that he says will live longest in the memory banks as he prepares to chase his first major victory.

Harrington said: "I have had a few highlights this year but as I get further and further away the Ryder Cup is the one that is going to stand out the most.

"It was special with everything going right for us and it is the one that is going to stand in my memory for the longest.

"The Ryder Cup stands out this year because it was a great week. Looking back, I had a lot of highlights at the end of the year but when time goes by it will be the Ryder Cup that stands out.

"A couple of wins there were nice but the Ryder Cup, winning in Ireland, was very special.

"The most important thing was the show that Ireland put on and that everyone had a good time. It was very important that all my fellow pros thought it was great."

On a purely personal level, Harrington can slap himself on the back for a season that saw him snatch the European Order of Merit in dramatic fashion at Valderrama.

The Dubliner, 35, was €725,790 behind eventual runner up Paul Casey before winning the Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews.

And he cracked on from there, finishing second in the Volvo Masters to edge out Casey by just over €35,000 in the last counting event.

The European money title is important to Harrington but looking at the bigger picture, he feels that he has improved in every department as a player and hopes to move up to another level next year.

At the start of the season he was ranked 17th in the world but finished it at No 8 after Ernie Els leapfrogged from eighth to fifth place following his win in the Dunhill Championship in South Africa on Sunday.

Harrington added: "If I am being selfish, the Order of Merit was an obvious highlight. But I think I have improved as a player throughout the year. I think I have the capability to continue to improve.

"I am happy with that and I think I have made significant steps forward this year. I think I can use the experience gained this year to continue to improve next year."

Things didn’t look so good or Harrington in the middle of the summer as he missed the cut in the Open just a few weeks after blowing a golden opportunity to win the US Open at Winged Foot.

He had to fight hard to earn his Ryder Cup place but knuckled down to finish second in the Booz Allen Classic and French Open in successive weeks before wrapping up his place in Munich, where he was beaten in a three-man play-of for the BMW International.

Explaining the reason for his optimism, he said: "I have definitely improved my golf swing and I am happy about that. And I have definitely improved my mental game as well.

"Both of those have been excellent. My all round fitness is improving as well so all round we are getting better."

The majors continue to elude him though and he will be keen to erase the disappointments of Augusta and Winged Foot - where he finished and missed cuts in the Open and the US PGA.

He said: "We are aspiring to get to a level that when you turn up a major you are not turning up needing your very best.

"The idea is that you can turn up and you are able to play within yourself. That's why we try and improve. I could turn up and have a lucky week and win one. But It is better to turn up and be capable of winning one playing within myself."

Harrington switched to the new Titleist ProV1 last month and used it in the Dunlop Phoenix Tournament in Japan, where he beat Woods in sudden death.

Before heading to Thousand Oaks for the season-ending Target World Challenge, he spent a day at the Titleist Performance Institute in Oceeanside, San Diego working on a fitness and swing improvement programme for the winter.

He said: "It is more like a gym that anything else. They check out your flexibility and your strengths and weaknesses and work out a programme to help you get over anything in your game.

"For example, if you want to change your swing, they come up with what you need to change in your body so that you can do it.

"I have been more or less the same on the machines for the last three or four years. They check your sequencing - the way the hips, body and arms work together - which has improved over the year.

"Then they check out rotational speed, pronation of the wrist - and both of them have improved. They also check the curve in my back at the top of my backswing. They don't measure my swing speed - I do that at home on my launch monitor.

"It’s 120 mph and it is getting faster all the time but I know I can improve in all areas and that’s what I’ll be working on over the winter break."

Harrington’s mental game has been one of his strengths this year but he admitted that it let him down on the front nine in his final round at Sherwood Country Club.

The Dubliner made three bogeys and just one birdie on his way to the turn before storming back in four under par to grab eighth place - 11 shots behind winner Woods.

He said: "I really struggled with my focus on the front nine but I am very happy that I got it back on the back nine.

"I made four birdies and I had three other very good chances. It was nice and I am happy that I came back.

"It is nice that I played the last nine holes quite well. It is better to go out shooting under par than not. "