Marked man Padraig Harrington met boxing legend Muhammad Ali on the first fairway at Valhalla yesterday.

And after racking up three major wins inside the last 14 months, the Dubliner knows he can deliver a knockout punch to Paul Azinger's US warriors and prove that he's the Greatest.

Targeted by the Americans as the man to beat, Harrington is completely bullet-proof according to pal Paul McGinley.

McGinley said: "Padraig will be walking round Valhalla with a big target on his chest and a dozen Americans looking to gun him down.

"But I can tell you this, they will have fire all the right shots, because as a scrapper Padraig is the only golfer in the world up there on a par with Tiger Woods.

"It makes sense for the Americans to target Padraig because he is the hottest player on the planet, and has been for the past 14 months.

"They will feel that bringing him down will give them a massive edge, just as Padraig's win with Colin Montgomerie over the 'Dream Team' of Tiger and Phil Mickelson four years ago did for us.

"That was the first game on the course, and winning it was fantastic for our morale. And I'm sure the rest of Americans must have thought: 'If those two can't win a match, what chance have we got?'

"Padraig knows he is a marked man, but it will not worry him. In fact, it's hard to think of anything that does worry him.

"The reason he's moved to another level as a golfer is his incredible temperament. Padraig sucks up pressure and remains unvelievably calm.

"It will be the same in the Ryder Cup. Whatever the Americans throw at Padraig will just bounce off without making any sort of dent in the armour."

Winning five points out of five would be a first for Ireland's triple Major winner, who has won just seven of his 17 Ryder Cup matches.

And if he's to lead by example and match Christy O'Connor Snr as Ireland's biggest Ryder Cup points scorer, he must come out fighting from the blue corner and blot out his disappointing performance at The K Club, where he got just half a point.

Harrington has confessed that he has always been a slow burner and climbed each step of the golfing ladder slowly but surely.

But his performances in the Majors prove that he relishes a dogfight and he'd welcome a re-run of the brawl at was the 1999 Ryder Cup at Brookline.

Hoping for a similar experience, Harrington said: "Brookline was the most exciting event I ever played in. The atmosphere was electric. I've never experienced anything like it. I've won three majors since and I still haven't.

"I was a rookie at the time but the atmosphere was unbelievable and I'm looking forward to the same experience this week because you can't get it anywhere else but the Ryder Cup. You've got to embrace it.

"There's no way you would want it every week, no way you could handle it every week, but you certainly know you're living when you're playing a Ryder Cup in that sort of atmosphere. The excitement, the pressure, the intrigue, the stories. It's phenomenal."

Unlike his previous Ryder Cups, when Darren Clarke, Colin Montgomerie and Jose Maria Olazabal soaked up the pressure, Harrington is expected to deliver this time.

He admits he's marked man but it is up to Azinger to find the players that can take him down.

Apart from superstars like Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk and Anthony Kim, American hopes are resting on the X-factor created by Kentucky hero Kenny Perry.

Determined to wipe away the disappointment of the 1996 US PGA, where looked certain to win before losing in a play-off to Mark Brooks, Perry said: "This is how I'll be remembered. I'm ready to play. If it doesn't go my way I'll live with that. If it does, I’ll remember it the rest of my life."

The roar of the home crowd will give the US a huge advantage in momentum if results are going their way.

And Harrington knows that he will enjoy be able to enjoy a European victory when its all over.

He said: "It's like going on a roller coaster. When you're actually on the roller coaster it's not much fun, but when you get off you think it's fun.

"I'd have to take up some weird sport in order to get that sort of adrenalin rush as you get here. It's great to that extent, but it's not enjoyable. Enjoyable is going to the movies."

Faldo regards Harrington as one of the ace in his Ryder Cup pack and the "man to beat" after witnessing his double major form this summer.

And he expects the Dubliner to thrive on the atmosphere and ride a wave of adrenaline to Ryder Cup victory.

Faldo said: "He's really grasped what it is and how to control his own adrenaline flow because obviously you can see how he changes, and obviously he's thriving on producing that feeling.

"He's obviously recognized, if I'm in there and I'm in the right frame of mind, which he obviously is, who's going to beat me. He's right now the man to beat. You know, what he did for that month was really historic, wasn't it."

At 7,496 yards, Valhalla is regarded as a long-hitter's paradise. But Harrington believes that the fast running conditions will make life easier for the shorter hitter, like fellow Irishman Graeme McDowell.

Portrush man McDowell is pumped up by the whole experience and looks certain to play a major role in Faldo's plans.

Like many of the European players, the youngster is in awe of his six-time major winning skipper and keen to learn as much as he can.

McDowell said: "We're kind of on the edge of our seat a little bit because we are waiting for the next nugget of wisdom that's going to come out of his mouth."

Twice a winner on the European Tour this year, McDowell knows that he will be nervous as a kitten when he gets to hit his first tee shot.

But with Faldo's help he reckons he can steady his nerves and play a major role in what promises to be a thrilling Ryder Cup.

He said: "Obviously a lot has been said about the first tee shot and thankfully we only have to hit it once this week, so that will be over soon, quick.

"But the first tee shot, it's a no-brainer driver, so I'm pretty happy from that point of view."

A Harrington-McDowell tandem looks certain this week and the Ulster kid believes that having the three-time Major winner on his side will be a massive help.

He said: "Having him on our side is huge. Lucky enough to play a practice round with him yesterday and get up and close. I find myself watching the guy, especially around the greens, he's unbelievable.

"He's certainly given our team room strength. He's strengthened the whole team. He's bringing something and he's bringing a whole new level to our team."

Getting Harrington to produce the trademark, mad-eyed stare he produces in Majors is going to be vital this week if the Americans are to hit the canvas with a thud.