By Brian Keogh
Padraig Harrington has opted out of a US Open sparring session with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson at the Buick Invitational in California.
The Open champion intended to tee it up at the San Diego track in two weeks time in preparation for June's US Open.
But a Christmas holiday illness has left Harrington behind schedule with his preparations and as a result he has decided to withdraw his commitment to the January 24-27 event.
Harrington's agent Adrian Mitchell explained: "Padraig has decided not to play the Buick Invitational. The decision was taken because he was ill over the Christmas period and was not able to do the work he was hoping to do in preparation for the season ahead."
As planned, the Dubliner will kick off his 2008 campaign in next week's Abu Dhabi Championship.
He will then take two weeks off before playing the AT&T Pro-Am at Pebble Beach, the Los Angeles Open and the Accenture World Matchplay in Tucson.
Harrington's decision to skip the Buick Invitational could prove to be a wise one as he would have had to travel 12 time zones to get to San Diego from Abu Dhabi.
Speaking at December's Target World Challenge, he said: “It is upsetting my schedule and it means I'm doing something against what I'd generally do, but I can see the positives of going to Torrey Pines, and that's why I'm doing it. My schedule is all geared up for the majors."
Harrington added: "If I play two or three rounds there, I guarantee there'll be two or three shots that will benefit me come the U.S. Open."
Six of the top world's top 25 have entered the Buick Invitational so far – No 1 Woods, No 2 Mickelson, No 4 Jim Furyk, No 9 K.J. Choi, No 11 Rory Sabbatini and No 25 Stewart Cink.
However, the European Tour's Middle East has weakened the field with Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson and Retief Goosen playing the clashing Qatar Masters.
South African Ernie Els is skipping the entire West Coast swing and February's Accenture Match Play in Tucson so he will be better prepared to chase Major titles.
Els said: "I think there were maybe times in the past when I've tried to please too many people. Not now. I'm 38 and I need to think about me and how I can give myself the best chance to add to the three majors that I've already won."