Juggling act for Padraig

By Brian Keogh

Padraig Harrington believes he must perform a circus-style juggling act to continue his rise to the top of world golf.

Reflecting on the best season of his 12-year professional career, the Open and Irish Open champion is convinced that he can still get better.

But he knows that pulling it off won't be easy as he nears the limits of his natural talent.

Jet-lagged after a 12 hour flight from London to Shanghai, Harrington is not happy to rest on his laurels.

He said: "I could name every aspect of my game that I want to improve, and I know how to go about doing it.

"It's a question of juggling all the balls in the air and making sure that in trying to improve all areas of my game, I don't lead any of them slip.

"So there's no part of my game that I can't see an ability to improve and that I'm not trying to improve but in saying that, it is tough to maintain all elements and to keep moving forward."

Just days after losing his Order of Merit crown to Justin Rose in the Volvo Masters at Valderrama, the Dubliner will kick off his 2008 European Tour campaign in Shanghai today.

And he tees it up in the $5 million HSBC Champions Tournament with a burning desire to put last week's agonising Valderrama reverse behind him.

He said: "After coming very close on the Order of Merit and this week being the first event of the 2008 Order of Merit, there's a keen sense to get off to a good start and get going in that race.

"I'm a little jet-lagged, but I'm well motivated for this week. I've been travelling a lot the past four weeks and there is some tiredness.

"But I am motivated and I feel remarkably good. Losing out last week has got me very keen to start well this year."

Harrington could only finish tied fourth in the Volvo Masters and finished up third in the Order of Merit behind tournament winner Justin Rose and Ernie Els.

But he believes he is physically in better shape than he was in September, when he pulled out of the third FedEx Cup play-off event and the Seve Trophy.

He said: "I feel much better than I did maybe towards the end of the summer, say in the month of September, when I wasn't 100 per cent strong, so I feel ready to go now.

"It feels like the start of a new year to me rather than the tail end of last year."

The HSBC Champions is a limited field event for tournament winners, the leading money winners from the world's main tours and members of the world's top 50.

Harrington qualified on four counts thanks to his Open and Irish Open titles as well as his position in the top-20 on the European Order of Merit and world No 8.

Now is not the time to rest on his laurels and while he spent the long flight from London watching highlights of his Open win on the in-flight video, he won't take full stock of his achievements until Christmas.

He said: "I haven't actually sat down and reflected on my achievements and it won't be until the winter break before I do that.

"I have attempted to set goals, new goals after the year, especially winning The Open Championship and while I've set them, it will take the winter break before the full focus of going forward comes in.

"I'm still very much playing in the current year and it's when I stop and look back and sort to prepare for next year that I will really get into those goals."