By Brian Keogh

Padraig Harrington is battling invisible man Tiger Woods to become the first European winner of the PGA Tour's Player of the Year Award.

But victory in the $10 million FedEx Cup play-offs over the next month will end that debate and help him claim an armful of end-of-season gongs.

The King and I. Padraig Harrington and Arnold Palmer at White Oak Plantation in North Carolina.

While Woods won the US Open with a torn knee ligament AND a broken leg as well as three other PGA Tour events, Harrington is still not sure of winning the votes of his fellow professionals, despite claiming back to back major titles.


Overall FedEx Cup victory or even one win in any of the four play-off events would surely be enough to sway the votes of his tour colleagues his way.

And Harrington has no doubt where his vote is going, joking: "I would vote for myself, any day. I don’t know how that works out, but I would be very honoured to win.

"I guess what I think is irrelevant, so I will leave that up to someone else. But it would be a great thing for me to win, an incredible achievement that I would be proud of."

Many have pointed out that Woods did not play in the Open or the US PGA but Harrington points out that all he can do is beat the players in front of him.

He said: "It’s a valid point, he wasn’t in the field. But as a player, you can only win the events that you tee it up in. They are not going to stop the British Open or the PGA because he wasn’t there.

"He doesn’t win every major, so there are always majors to win. You can sit down and have the argument that Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus weren’t there, either.

"If I’m sitting in a bar I would be having that discussion with the guy sitting next to me and I would say he had a valid point. But as a player, it’s not something I worry about."

With no Majors to play for until next year's Masters, Harrington can still pile more trophies on his heaving mantelpiece before the end of the year.

Before he leads Europe in the Ryder Cup, he will play the first three FedEx Cup play-off events, starting with The Barclays in New Jersey this week.

Following the Ryder Cup he will then head to Atlanta for the 30-man Tour Championship that will decide the destiny of the $10 million bonus.

Back to back wins in the Open, followed by his third major win from six starts in the US PGA two weeks ago, mean he's already a certainty to become the European Tour's Player of the Year for the second year on the trot.

But the PGA Tour's Player of the Year Award is based on a ballot of PGA Tour players, making Woods a real danger man following his amazing US Open play-off victory over Rocco Mediate at Torrey Pines.

Out for the rest of the season after undergoing reconstructive knee surgery in June, Woods can't stop Harrington claiming the PGA of America's Player of the Year title and the prestigious Vardon Trophy for the lowest scoring average.

The Dubliner already leads the PGA of America’s 2008 Player of the Year point standings as well as the Vardon Trophy race.

In the stroke average stakes, he has 44 completed rounds and needs to record 16 additional complete rounds to meet the required minimum of 60 rounds for one of the most prestigious season-ending awards.

With a scoring average of 69.28 compared to 69.42 for Phil Mickelson and 69.56 for Kenny Perry, he would become the first European to win the Vardon Trophy, which has been awarded by the PGA of America since 1937.

But he would also become the first European since Nick Faldo in 1990 to win the PGA of America's Player of the Year Award.

Still riding high after his amazing Major double, Harrington is determined not to rest on his laurels and fade away.

And this week's opening FedEx Cup event, the $7 million Barclays at Ridgewood Country Club in New Jersey, is just what he needs to keep interested.

Warning of the dangers of complacency, Harrington said: "It's such a high in my career, it very easily could be the last high. And many players have failed at this point in the past. That's the key. I have to set new goals."

Happy to take a back seat role in the past, Harrington's first goal is to become and on-course leader for Europe in the Ryder Cup.

And he knows that he will be in the spotlight for the next seven months as countdown continues to a possible head-to-head with Woods in next year's Masters.

Looking ahead to a possible Augusta clash with Tiger, Harrington is determined to play down the hype.

He said: "I know that’s what everyone is going to be talking about, and the way everyone is going to build that up.

"That’s just more pressure and distraction for me, so I will try and play that down and just focus on myself. I am happy to be in the position where people will be talking about that."

As for the Ryder Cup, he knows that he will be expected to lead the team if Colin Montgomerie or Darren Clarke fail to earn wildcards.

He said: "I’ve been the leading player in Europe for six years, but maybe that hasn’t been realised because I don’t market myself that way. I’m not a fist pumping, high-five kind of guy, but I know the expectations are greater now.

"I guess this time I will be the guy expected to lead his team on, just like Phil Mickelson is for the US team."

After spending last week relaxing with his family at the Irish owned White Oak Plantation in North Carolina, where he is building a home, Harrington will be gunning for huge FedEx Cup points in The Barclays.

With Woods out of the running, Harrington is effectively third in the FedEx Cup standings behind Perry and Mickelson.

In 2001, Harrington drained a snaking, 61-foot eagle-putt on the final hole of regulation to beat Jim Furyk for his second PGA Tour victory.

He now has five PGA Tour wins and a sixth would make him the favourite to grab the $10 million FedEx Cup bonus.

The top 144 players in the FedEx Cup standings following Sunday's Wyndham Championship will tee it up in The Barclays.

The field narrows to 120 player for next week's Deutsche Bank Championship with just 70 surviving to tee it up in the BMW Championship in St Louis.

Only the top 30 in the points list will make it to the deciding Tour Championship at East Lake from September

Harrington v Tiger 2008

Padraig Harrington
World Ranking: 3
Tournaments worldwide: 17
Wins: 2 (Open championship, US PGA Championship)
Top 10s: 6
Top 5s: 5
Majors: Masters (T5), US Open (T36), The Open (1st), US PGA (1st)

Tiger Woods
World Ranking: 1
Tournaments worldwide: 7
Wins: 5 (Buick Invitational, Dubai Desert Classic, WGC-Accenture Matchplay, Arnold Palmer Invitational, US Open)
Top 10s: 7
Top 5s: 7
Majors: Masters (2nd), US Open (1st), The Open (Did not play), US PGA (Did not play).

Next up for Harrington
This week: The Barclays, Ridgewood Country Club, New Jersey
Field: Top 144 players in the FedExCup standings
Par: 35-36-71; Yardage: 7,319
FedExCup points: 190,000 (11,000 to the champion)
Purse: $7 million (€4.75 m); Winner's Share: $1.26 m (€855,000)

Aug. 29-Sept. 1, Deutsche Bank Championship, TPC Boston, Norton, Mass.
Sept. 4-7, BMW Championship, Bellerive CC, St. Louis, Mo.
Sept. 11 - 14 Week off
Sept. 19-21 The Ryder Cup, Louisville, Kentucky
Sept. 26-29 The Tour Championship, East Lake GC, Atlanta, Ga.

PGA Player of the Year
The award given by the PGA of America has been based on a points system since 1982, with points awarded for accomplishments throughout the year (wins, top 10 finishes, bonus for wins in majors, plus the player's standing on the money list and scoring average). Tiger Woods has won the award eight times since 1999 with Vijay Singh the winner in 2004.

PGA Tour Player of the Year (Jack Nicklaus Award)
Beginning in 1990, the PGA Tour began handing out its own award. This award is based on a vote by PGA Tour members. Woods has taken the award nine times in the last 11 years with Mark O'Meara winning in 1998, when he won two majors, and Vijay Singh in 2004.