The king will meet the young pretender today when triple major champion Padraig Harrington takes on young gun Rory McIlroy in the Lough Erne Challenge.

Lough ErneBut there will be a lot more at stake than winning the lion’s share of the $300,000 (€211,000) prize fund on offer at the “Duel on the Lough” - a made-for-TV showdown to mark the official opening of the Nick Faldo designed course near Enniskillen in Co Fermanagh - pride and bragging rights.

Less than 12 months ago, Harrington was ranked third in the world following his third major championship victory in the US PGA at Oakland Hills as McIlroy was battling to emerge from the first big confidence crisis of his fledgling professional career.

Since then they have swapped roles with Harrington mired in the biggest results slump since he turned pro as McIlroy edges ever closer to the world’s elite.

While the Dubliner has missed eight cuts this year and slithered to 16th in the latest world rankings, McIlroy has become a European Tour winner and a golfing icon in the US.

“A couple of years ago would have been beyond my wildest dreams to tee it up against Padraig,” McIlroy said in the build up to Wednesday’s clash. “To see where I’ve come in such a short space of time is pretty cool. It shows a lot of younger golfers coming up through the amateur ranks what’s possible.”

McIlroy and Harrington have yet to clash on tour but they enjoyed some banter during a nine-hole practice round at last November’s Barclays Singapore Open, where the youngster missed a putt on the last to take the money.

“Just to see what Padraig’s done has been an inspiration,” the world No 26 said. “Everything he’s doing, how he handles the pressure on his shoulders, has been tremendous.”

Harrington will be making his first professional appearance in Northern Ireland, hoping for an easier time than he endured north of the border in his amateur days.

“It’s nice for me to be going back up there as a pro - the tough part is I’m playing Rory,” Harrington said. “I’d have preferred a bit softer opposition .... It was tough when I was playing Garth McGimpsey and the others but I think it’ll be even tougher when I play Rory.

“When we played nine holes in Singapore, Rory’s caddie JP Fitzgerald was elbowing and baiting him to hit it 20 yards past me at will. It was a more pleasurable experience for JP than it was for me, let’s say.”

Full of admiration for McIlroy’s work ethic, he added: “What most people don’t see is the amount of effort and work he’s putting into what he would recognise as the weaker parts of his game because he knows that this is going to bring him to the very top.”

The pair will arrive at Lough Erne by seaplane for an all-ticket, head to head showdown in front of 4,000 fans.

The match will also feature a special event on the par-three fifth, where each player will have six attempts to make a hole-in-one and earn $1 million (€700,000) for a Fermanagh-based charity.