Harrington targets winning start to 2007

European No 1 Padraig Harrington believe he can start 2007 with a win and take the next step to major glory.

The Dubliner is brimming with confidence as prepares to battle five of his Ryder Cup team mates and defending champion Chris DiMarco in the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship.

And the European No 1 is convinced that he his closer than ever to making the move from tournament winner to major champion in 2007.

Harrington said: "I've won tournaments all the way up to major championship level, so that would be the next step.

"Obviously, it's a big step. If it doesn't happen this year, so be it, whenever it comes along.

"But my game is improving every year and it's inevitable that if my game keeps improving I will take the next step."

Harrington showed that he is not afraid to go toe-to toe with Tiger Woods when he beat the world No 1 in a play-off in Japan last year.

But this week he is looking forward to leaving five of the world's top 20 in his wake.

Defending champion DiMarco and Ryder Cup team mates Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Paul Casey and Colin Montgomerie have all made the return trip to Abu Dhabi this season.

And Harrington is not the least bit surprised that they have made the trip to the Middle East for the $2 million event.

He added: "The field is very good and can I see why. People who came last year talked well about the course, they see the course and the Emirates Palace hotel and that gets them coming back.

"This event is strong and it's going from strength to strength. It's a good test of golf, and especially important at this time of year, coming back from the winter break, there are great practice facilities here.

"This is an event you come back to. If you don't play well, you've got ideal facilities for tuning up your game, and if you do play well, it's a good golf course.

"You can shoot really good scores, which is another plus. You don't want to be coming out here to shoot two over par. You want the sort of golf course that you can make a few birdies on and play well on.

"I can see how a lot of players who were here last year would be coming back this year."

With Luke Donald taking the week off, world No 9 Harrington can regain his spot as the highest ranked European in the world.

Donald's runner up finish in the Sony Open last weekend saw him take over from the Dubliner as world No 7.

Back in action just four weeks after his last outing in the Target World Challenge, Harrington feels good about the state of his game.

He said: "I'm happy with how I'm swinging the golf club. I do feel good about my game and I like the golf course, too. It's a really nice course

"When you travel to any event at the start of the year, it's nice to play a course that you feel comfortable on.

"It's definitely a course that would suit my game. I like grainy greens. I find them easier to read and I really feel like I can hole putts on them."

This week's event will also give Harrington a chance to test his new Wilson driver and irons in competition.

The Irish star reckons the new irons will give him a better chance of challenging in the American majors, where a high ball flight is vital.

He explained: "Technology advances always. I can see a big difference in the longer irons.

"The key with my game for majors is I want to hit my irons a little bit softer onto the greens.

"These definitely fly higher and sort of hold the trajectory well, whereas before, the one thing I got a little too often was an aggressive flight.

"That's great when you're playing in windy weather and on links courses, but not great when you're playing stadium-style golf courses where you're trying to fly a ball onto a green and stop it quickly."

World No 8 Retief Goosen is also in action on a course that has been toughened up since last year.

The Irish challenge is completed by Graeme McDowell, Damien McGrane, Peter Lawrie and Gary Murphy,

Down to 142nd in the world, McDowell has not played since the Volvo Masters last year but is keen to bounce back as he concentrates on the European Tour in 2007.

Selected tee times (Irish time)

1st tee
1135 Graeme McDowell, Soren Kjeldsen, Stephen Gallacher
1600 Padraig Harrington, Robert Karlsson, Jeev Milkha Singh
1640 Damien McGrane, Jean Francois Remesy, Markus Brier

10th tee
1225 Gary Murphy, Peter Gustafsson, Steven Jeppesen
1620 Peter Lawrie, Simon Khan, Jean van de Velde.