Padraig Harrington has played in 38 World Golf Championship events - more than any other player. But if he doesn’t win the Portugal Masters this week or add the Andalucia Masters to his schedule and win that instead of playing in a clashing, $5 million invitational for 30 players in China, he’s unlikely to make it 39 appearances in next month’s WGC-HSBC Champions.
The $7m WGC HSBC Champions, which will be played in Shanghai from November 3-6, will featured a 78-man field of selected tournament winners and the leading non-exempt players from the tour money lists and the world rankings.
The eligibility criteria are complex to say the least, but Harrington can make sure of his places alongside Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke, Michael Hoey and (almost certainly) Graeme McDowell, by winning at the Oceânico Victoria Golf Club near Vilamoura.
He was third behind Lee Westwood in 2009 and returns to the course with good memories.
Harrington said: “I played pretty well there on my last visit two years ago. I remember shooting 62 in the second round so it is a course I have played well on in the past.
“The field looks very strong for the Portugal Masters but I’ll be trying to concentrate on my own game and hope I can contend and pick up points towards the Race to Dubai and Ryder Cup qualification. It would be fantastic to win another European Tour title.”
Harrington is one of five Major Champions in the field for the fifth edition of the tournament, alongside American John Daly, Kaymer of Germany, Scotland’s Paul Lawrie and Spaniard José Maria Olazábal, the 2012 Ryder Cup Captain.
It’s a huge week on the Algarve for several Irish players as the race to earn tour cards and qualify for events such as the HSBC Champions or the season-ending Dubai World Championship enters the home stretch.
Seven Irishmen will tee it up in Vilamoura with their eyes firmly fixed on the €416,660 top prize. Peter Lawrie (60th in the Race to Dubai), Shane Lowry (62nd) and Harrington (71st) need cash to make sure they are in the top 60 following December’s Hong Kong Open who qualify for the European Tour’s Dubai World Championship finale.
Keeping their cards by finishing the season inside the top 115 on the money list is more of a priority for Damien McGrane (104th) and Gareth Maybin (110th) while a cardless Gary Murphy needs to take advantage of a sponsor’s invitation to improve his status, having failed to come through the first stage of Q-School.
Paul McGinley is 149th in the Race to Dubai standings but should have no worries about his status next year as he will still be able to claim starts thanks to his place in the top-40 in the Career Money List. McGinley is 22nd with earnings of €10.7m.
On the Challenge Tour, the penultimate event of the season takes place in Italy where Simon Thornton, Colm Moriarty and Niall Kearney will tee it up in the Roma Golf Open at Olgiata.
The top 20 in the Rankings at the end of the season will earn full European Tour cards with those in the top 10 skipping ahead of the Q-School graduates in the pecking order when to comes to main tour starts next term.
At 15th in the Rankings, Thornton is all but guaranteed his card but he knows that two big weeks could see him finish in the top 10 and get even more starts when he returns to the big leagues next season.
Moriarty is 66th in the Rankings, €10,897 outside the top 45, which means he must finish in the Top-3 to make it to the Apulia San Domenico Grand Final, thus avoiding a trip to Stage Two of the Q-School.
Dubliner Kearney must win the €25,600 top prize in Rome to have any chance of making the top 45 who qualify for the Grand Final. Ranked 111th in the Challenge Tour standings, he’s €24,957 behind Swede Klas Eriksson, the man in 45th place.
It could mean another trip to PQ-2 for Kearney, who will be reunited there with former amateur colleague Niall Turner of Muskerry.
Having successfuly come through Stage One of the Q-School, Turner is back on the Asian Tour this week where he tees it up in the Hero Indian Open. But he is not the only Irish globetrotter in Asia.
Rory McIlroy began the Shui On Land China Golf Challenge in Shanghai on Monday and is last on four over par after visiting water on the first two holes of an 18 hole match with Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and Liang Wen-chong that is being played on eight courses over seven days in seven cities:
Shui On Land China Golf Challenge 2011 schedule
October 10: Shanghai – Tomson Shanghai Pudong Golf Club
October 11: Zhengzhou – Jinsha Lake Golf Club
October 12: Beijing – Topwin Golf and Country Club & Jade Island International Golf Club
October 13: Dalian – Red Flag Valley
October 14: Chongqing – Sun Kingdom Golf Club
October 15: Dongguan – Long Island Golf and Country Club
October 16: Macau – Caesars Golf Macau
As for fears that McIlroy could suffer burn out during a 12-week road trip that began with his second place finish behind Rickie Fowler in Korea on Sunday, McIlroy’s manager Chubby Chandler was clear.
“He’s playing as much as a 22-year-old should play,” Chandler told the Daily Express. “I’m happy there’s enough down-time and time with his girlfriend built into it. Is it a brand-building exercise? Yes. Is it about cash? Yes. Is it a great adventure? Yes.”
Meanwhile, on the PGA Tour, Graeme McDowell will tee it up in the McGladrey Classic on the Seaside Course at the Sea Island Golf Club in Georgia hoping to build on his third place finish behind Michael Hoey in the Alfred Dunhill Links two weeks ago. McDowell will then defend his Andalucia Masters title at Valderrama in two weeks before jetting off to Asia for the end of season events. They include the World Cup of Golf with Rory McIlroy, the Nedbank Challenge in Sun City and the Dubai World Championship.
Irish in action this week
European Tour, Portugal Masters (7): Padraig Harrington, Shane Lowry, Gary Murphy (invitation), Peter Lawrie, Damien McGrane, Gareth Maybin, Paul McGinley.
Challenge Tour, Roma Golf Open 2011 (3): Simon Thornton, Colm Moriarty, Niall Kearney.
PGA Tour, The McGladrey Classic (1): Graeme McDowell.
Asian Tour, Hero Indian Open (1): Niall Turner.
Shui On Land China Golf Challenge (1): Rory McIlroy.
World Rankings (last week)
1 (1) Luke Donald 10.627
2 (2) Lee Westwood 7.628
3 (3) Rory McIlroy 7.395
14 (14) Graeme McDowell 4.641
34 (38) Darren Clarke 3.213
78 (78) Padraig Harrington 2.010
97 (98) Michael Hoey 1.692
151 (153) Peter Lawrie 1.176
187 (184) Damien McGrane 0.941
208 (196) Gareth Maybin 0.895
213 (208) Shane Lowry 0.879
Race to Dubai standings (events played)
2 Rory McIlroy €2,543,571 (16)
9 Darren Clarke €1,346,160 (20)
15 Michael Hoey €852,428 (24)
22 Graeme McDowell €749,957 (14)
60 Peter Lawrie €383,213 (19)
—- Top 60 qualify for Dubai World Championship —-
62 Shane Lowry €377,060 (20)
71 Padraig Harrington €341,810 (14)
104 Damien McGrane €233,664 (27)
110 Gareth Maybin €216,780 (21)
142 Paul McGinley €141,384 (20)
193 Simon Thornton €55,964 (7)
217 Colm Moriarty €31,430 (7)
285 Gary Murphy €10,400 (6)
329 Niall Kearney €3,060 (3)
15 Simon Thornton €61,996 (10)
66 Colm Moriarty €24,740 (14)
111 Niall Kearney €10,680 (21)
191 Jonny Caldwell €1,800 (6)
243 Gary Murphy €496 (9)
245 Tim Rice €480 (2)