Tank-buster Harrington in Korean war

By Brian Keogh

Padraig Harrington is gunning for an ego-boosting victory in the Ballantine's Championship in Korea.

But the Dubliner faces an explosive challenge from world No 5 and "relentless" local hero KJ "Tank" Choi on a volcanic island in the Korea Strait.

Jeju Island is plastered with billboards and banners featuring tournament favourites Harrington and Choi as well as American raider Chris DiMarco and Colin Mongtomerie, who pulled out to play in Bay Hill instead.

And while the Open champion agrees that seeing himself on billboards is good for his ego, capturing the first European Tour event held in South Korea would be even better for his confidence.

Assessing the challenge posed by the powerfully-built Choi and a 31-strong home contingent, Harrington said: "I'm not familiar with all the local Korean players, but obviously KJ and Anthony Kim and a few others are very strong.

"Ballantine's has put such a great field together. This is the first time the European Tour has been here, so the Korean players are going to be up for it this week - no question.

"It would certainly be a great event to win - fantastic to get a win under my belt early season and great to come out top in such a strong field."

The Dubliner finished 11th in the Korean Golf Championship three years ago but this time he's aiming to give the sponsors full value for an appearance fee reputed to be in the region of €520,000 ($US 800,000).

Behind schedule with his preparation after early season problems with shingles and a neck injury, Harrington knows Choi will take some beating at Pinx Golf Club.

With no rough to trouble the big-hitters, he said: "He appears to be very self-confident, and goes about his business in his way. KJ Choi is trying to be KJ Choi - he's not trying to be anybody else.

"It's an intimidating factor when a player's comfortable with who he is, and KJ certainly has that.

"I would expect to see both KJ and Anthony thereabouts on Sunday, and hopefully I'll be up there fighting it out with them.

"I've played quite a lot with KJ over the years and the best word to describe him is relentless. He just keeps doing his thing. I don't believe I'm as self-confident as KJ."

Still working on a swing change, Harrington shot down suggestions that he is focussing more on Augusta than this week's challenge.

He said: "To be honest, if I was focused totally on the first major I wouldn't be tinkering with the golf swing five weeks out.

"I am somewhat focused but I'm more focused on the whole year and on just improving my game.

"I would always take a winter break to do that sort of work. But it might be a couple of weeks later this year becuase I wasn't well and didn't do as much practise after Christmas."

Ireland's Paul McGinley, Graeme McDowell, Damien McGrane, Gary Murphy and Rory McIlroy are also vying for the trophy and important Order of Merit and Ryder Cup points.

But Harrington has a place for the silverare on his kitchen table - right next to the Claret Jug.

Harrington beamed: "Every morning when I come down, I open the kitchen door and have my breakfast while it sits there. It seems like it's at home there."