McIlroy beat Harrington in a strokeplay head to head at Lough Erne last July.Top guns Padraig Harrington and Rory McIlroy are on course for a sensational WGC-Accenture Match Play semi-final shoot out in Tucson.

With superstars Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson skipping the annual matchplay classic, the Irish can fill the excitement void with a super Saturday showdown at Dove Mountain.

Confident that fans will quickly forget about the big name absentees, Harrington said: “Not having Tiger and Phil will take away quite a lot from the hype before the tournament. 

“But there will be new things to talk about once the games get going. I won’t say they’ll be forgotten about but there’s always stories during the week of a golf event.

“The guy who wins the tournament will probably be the guy that was playing the best golf that week in the world.  I think he will be a worthy winner.”

A clash between Harrington and McIlroy would be sensational box office material. And there will be no shortage of effort from Ireland’s big two as they are desperate to get back into the winner’s circle.

Harrington hasn’t won since his US PGA victory 18 months ago while Holywood hotshot McIlroy has 13 top 10s but no wins since the 2009 Dubai Desert Classic.

Darren Clarke’s 2000 win over Woods is the only Irish success in the event but McIlroy is fancied to go all the way after reaching the quarter-finals on his debut last year.

He faces American Kevin Na in tomorrow’s first round and Miguel A Jimenez or Oliver Wilson in round two before a potential third round clash with fellow Ulsterman Graeme McDowell.

If he survives the first three rounds, the world No 8 is seeded to take on German superstar Martin Kaymer in the quarters.

But the biggest rival in his path could be triple major winner Harrington who opens his title tilt against India’s Jeev Milkha Singh.

The triple major winning Dubliner has a mixed record in the early season match play contest with five first round defeats and two quarter-final appearances in 10 starts.

He’s also got top seed and world No 2 Steve Stricker on his side of the draw but bounced back from a missed cut in the Los Angeles Open to share 16th at Pebble Beach on Sunday.

Feeling good about his game, Harrington said: “To be honest, I was hitting it so well in practice it surprised me when I missed the cut in my first event in Los Angeles.

“It just goes to show what a difference there is between being in a tournament and being on the practice ground. But I think I’ve closed the range every night ever since, and I’m very happy with what I’m seeing.”

McDowell crashed out to Zach Johnson in the first round last term and faces another tough start against former Walker Cup team mate Luke Donald.

WGC-Accenuture Match Play brackets