Harrington and McIlroy headline Abu Dhabi

By Brian Keogh

Padraig Harrington will be looking over his shoulder for "cool" kid Rory McIlroy when he makes his 2008 debut in Abu Dhabi this week.

The Open champion, 36, headlines a star-studded field alongside the Holywood starlet and fellow Irishmen Darren Clarke, Paul McGinley, Peter Lawrie, Damien McGrane, Gary Murphy and Graeme McDowell in the €1.34 million Abu Dhabi Golf Championship.

Harrington has been seriously impressed by McIlroy's career start after watching him clinch the Silver Medal in last year's Open and his tour card after just three professional events.

Asked for his early impressions of the Ulster kid, Harrington said: "He's very cool. Cool, calm and collected. Rory knows what he's doing."

Now McIlroy hopes that he can steal some of Harrington's Open Championship thunder as he begins his quest for his his rookie European Tour victory in the first leg of the tour's three-pronged "desert swing".

The teen sensation, 18, still has fond memories of Carnoustie, where he carded the only bogey-free round on the opening day.

And he hopes to improve on the kind of form he showed alongside Ryder Cup stars Henrik Stenson and Miguel Angel Jimenez in Scotland, when he tees it up in Abu Dhabi for the first time.

Recalling the Open, McIlroy said: "Playing with Henrik and Miguel was brilliant as they are Ryder Cup men and heroes of mine.

"They're both going to be in Abu Dhabi and, you never know, I may be paired with them again - I'll be looking to get to the clubhouse in fewer shots than I did in Scotland.

"I've heard the clubhouse is shaped like a huge falcon and I can't wait to see it and the course. I've never played in Abu Dhabi so I'm eager to get started.

"There's a huge community of Irish fans in the UAE and hopefully a few will leave Padraig and come and lend me some support."

Harrington and McIlroy met up over Christmas for a magazine photoshoot at the Dubliner's Rathmichael home.

And while Harrington suggested that making this year's Ryder Cup team might be high on the youngster's list of goals, McIlroy wasn't making any rash predictions.

Regarding the Ryder Cup, McIlroy said: "It's certainly possible, but before playing at that level, I think I'd first like to prove I'm good enough by winning a tournament.

"I need to play in the big events, so I'll be aiming to qualify for the US Open. And top-100 in the world rankings would get me into the PGA. That's a reasonable target."

With three days warm-weather practice in Dubai under his belt, Harrington will be bidding to improve on his share of fifth place on his Abu Dhabi debut last year.

He led by a stroke from Peter Hanson and Miguel Angel Jimenez and by three from eventual winner Paul Casey entering last season's final round.

But a closing 71 cost him victory as Casey fired a 65 to win the title by a shot from Hanson and Jimenez.

World No 8 Adam Scott is the highest ranked player in the field ahead of Harrington while 2006 champion Stenson and English trio Ian Poulter, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood will all be bidding to land the €225,421 top prize.