Tiger Woods has hailed Padraig Harrington “impressive” double major winning form this season.
But the world No 1 immediately threw down the gauntlet to the Irish star by announcing his intention to deny Harrington a hat-trick of Claret Jugs in next year’s Open at Turnberry.
The pair have yet to go head to head for a major title and Woods is aiming to be ready for another ‘Duel in the Sun” in Scotland, where Tom Watson famously outgunned Jack Nicklaus to win the 1977 Open title.
Speaking in Dubai this week, where he is involved in a €48 billion golf course design project, Woods confessed that he was thoroughly impressed by Harrington’s major victories at Royal Birkdale and Oakland Hills.
Woods said: “He played unbelievably well. To win the last two majors and the way he did it on the back nine on Sunday, to play as well as he did on both occasions and basically win the championship.
“It’s not like he backed into the championship and was given the trophy. He went out an earned it and he had to. It was very impressive playing.”
Woods underwent reconstructive surgery on his left knee following his amazing US Open victory in June.
But he has no plans to start hitting golf balls again until after Christmas and his major return might have to wait until the Open.
Asked about the state of his left knee, Woods said: “The rehab is still going well. Still slow. But we are starting to do more things on it, which is good.
“I will start hitting golf balls at the beginning of next year but as regards a time scale I don’t know.
“As I starting ramping up, the swelling can obviously will occur and come out overnight.
“If not the soreness or residual effects - all that is unknown. Until I put more pressure on it, I don’t know what my timetable is. I don’t know when I am playing.”
Woods could well make his return at the Masters in April but he hopes to be ready to bid for his fourth Open Championship at Turnberry in July and deny Harrington the chance to win a hat-trick of Claret Jugs.
Looking ahead to Turnberry, Woods said: “I look forward to coming back and playing. And I look forward to getting to Britain and the Open Championship.
“I am looking forward to getting back and playing and hopefully I can get back and contend and win the Open Championship again.”
Harrington will be relishing the chance to take on Woods after outgunning him to win the Dunlop Phoenix Tournament in Japan in 2006.
The pair played together in the last two rounds with Harrington shooting 71-67 to 72-67 by Woods to force a play-off and win with a birdie at the first extra hole.
Harrington has teed it up with Woods in majors before, notably at Bethpage Black on Long Island in the 2002 US Open, when they went out together in the third round.
A second round 68 left the Dubliner just three shots behind Woods in second place and he admitted before their Saturday pairing that the intimidation factor could have a negative effect.
At the time Harrington said: "He's a very intimidating force to be paired up with in a major. He's a phenomenal player and it can certainly distract anybody who's playing with him.
"The difficulty is managing my own game so I'm not distracted. But over the years, looking at guys who have been paired up with Tiger on Saturdays and Sundays of major tournaments, it tends to have a negative effect.
"I've seen many of my friends in the game who have shot 77, 78 when they're paired with Tiger, so it's obviously very difficult."
In the end Woods shot 70 to Harrington's 73 and went on to take the title and his second Major that season.
But a survey by American magazine Golf Digest reveals that of the players who have played a minimum of five rounds with the 14-time Major winner, Harrington is the only one who has come out smiling.
Harrington has played eight rounds with Tiger and outscored him by more than half a shot - 68.87 to 69.5
Happy with that statistic, Harrington said: “It gives me confidence. Without a doubt, it is a confident thing to say. My approach to playing in that situation is obviously having some success.
"What it’s all about is if I can do it head to head in a Major. That hasn’t gone for me so far. I was obviously respectable enough in Bethpage in '02 but obviously you want to beat him head to head or win in the play-off when it is a major. It is the next step but it is good that I have done it so far."
Woods is reported to have been paid $25 million to design the 7,800 yard course known as The Tiger Woods Dubai.
He said he drew inspiration for his first course from clubs in the "sandbelt" golfing region near Melbourne in Australia, adding: “We want this golf course to play fast, quick.”
But he is not the only golfer designing a course in the region.
Colin Montgomerie’s track was launched in 2006 and another by Ernie Els opened earlier this year.
Greg Norman, Sergio Garcia, Pete Dye and Vijay Singh are also working on courses scheduled to open this year or next.