Harrington learns his lessons

Padraig Harrington is already looking forward to the Masters and the eight-week winter break he hopes will put him on the road to a fourth major title.

The Dubliner took last week off and reflected on a season that will be remembered for its disappointments if he fails to win either of his last two events, the Dubai World Championship or Tiger Woods' Chevron World Challenge.

A career-worst run of missed cuts, caused by losing his swing and neglecting his short game, meant that the Dubliner did not start to show his true colours until August.

He almost won the Bridgestone Invitational. He almost won the US PGA and almost won the FedEx Cup but in the end he came away empty handed.

"I’ve got to say, yes a win would be great this week, or a win in the Chevron event," Harrington said in Dubai, where he is hoping to put his 2010 plans on hold for a while and compete.

"But will those wins help me win majors next year? At the end of the day whatever I do the next couple of weeks, my main focus is that I’m ready for Augusta

"I’m keenly focused on putting all the things together so that I have a good eight week break and have all the work done. When I’m not doing the work, I’m getting everything into position so I can start doing the work again."

Always positive, Harrington looks on what happened this season as something that will make him a better player.

"I’m a better golfer than I was the year before, no doubt about it," he insisted. "I’ll be a better player next year because of what happened this year."

This is not because he is mentally stronger than the rest but because he believes he has truly improved his game.

"I’m just a better player. It’s not because I’m trying to fight back. I’ve improved areas of my game this year, my golf swing, but that’s the least important part. I’ve also been reminded of my strengths, of how important they are. I’ve been reminded where I excel and as much as I’ve wanted to improve certain areas of the game this year has shown up how little they mean and how the stuff that I do well means ever so much to me. If I focus on that, that’s what ultimately will make me successful.

"Basically what I’m saying is as much as I always focus on my weaknesses this year has also pointed out that focussing on my strengths is possibly more important than anything else."

Harrington claims he never hit the panic button, even when the machine broke down with disastrous effects during the US Open.

"I was always in control of everything I did last year (sic)," he said. "Results are important in the short term and can be important at times but no, I generally take the broader picture and wonder where my game is at; how it’s improving and how I feel about things. On every front I have improved this year, which is good, but yes, there has to be an element of going out there and playing tournaments.

"I go through phases, as I always have throughout my career. But this year has been a big one for me. I’m not walking away from this year saying ‘if only my weaknesses were stronger’. I’m walking away from it knowing my strengths are very important to me and I’ve got to be on top of them.

"I knew what I was doing – always. I just couldn’t give it up. I knew what I was doing, I just couldn’t stop. I’d seen it before, everything about it was very familiar to me."

Even at Bethpage, where he barely hit a fairway and was forced to save incredible pars just to avoid an even more galling exit?

"Everything … you’ve got to remember, one thing went wrong in my game. In the first six months of the year, mentally I was poor and so was my short game. At Bethpage, while my mental and short game were poorer than they normally are, I also swung the club badly.

"You can’t control having a bad week, it doesn’t matter who you are, your swing is going to have ebbs and flows. I got the wrong side of the draw, my short game and mental game weren’t as good as they should have been and I actually swung the club badly that week, much more than at other times in the year.

"A lot of times you can do these things and you can hide but I wasn’t hiding anywhere. Yet I learnt a lot from this year and will be a better player next year."

Bob Torrance was not on hand to help Harrington out early in the season - nothing new there - but it showed up the need to have your entire team singing off the same hymn sheet.

"In two weeks time I’m bringing Bob out to TPI," said Harrington, who swears by the swing experts at the Titleist Performance Institute in California. "I’ve laid down the ground work for what I’m going to be doing during the winter. It’s not like I’m ever going to stop doing it.

"Last year I knew exactly what I was doing, how I was doing it. I couldn’t give it up, there was no doubt about that. It always ‘I’ll do just one more week and I’ll be ready to go’. Until I found a solution I just couldn’t stop. I was pretty determined.

"I’ve gradually worked on it. I’ve changed quite a bit. I’m not far away from it. It makes no difference to my game but I’m not far away from it."

Harrington sole victory this season came the week before the Open at Turnberry, when he won the Irish Professional (PGA) Championship for the sixth time against a field of non-tour players.

A tour victory would make him feel a little better about his year when he puts away the suitcase around December 10 and does not reappear until the Northern Trust Open at Riviera in Los Angeles eight weeks later.

But he's certainly not going hell for leather for the win after confessing that he tried too hard to clinch a victory on his return to Europe after the FedEx Cup series.

"I’m not as fussed as I was a couple of months ago. I sat down, thought about it and came to the conclusion that the Majors are important to me. They are the key. I’m hitting the gym hard. I’m doing quite a bit of work. Yeah, that’s not the scenario when you are trying to win next week.

"There’s a bit of both going on but I’m not like I was in the first six months of the year, just totally into one side of it, totally into my golf swing and what I’m doing. At the moment I’m preparing everything so I can get into it in a couple of weeks time."