Padraig Harrington needs a big performance in Johor this week as he chases his place in the top 60 who qualify for the Dubai World Championship. Photo Eoin Clarke/www.golffile.ieExactly 11 months ago Padraig Harrington detailed the slew of changes he’d made in his swing over the winter and set out his stall for 2011. Needless to say, the list drew gasps of astonishment from around the world.

“If you offered me one win during the year I’d say no thank you,” said the Dubliner, who has not won since he claimed the inaugural Iskandar Johor Open in October 2010. “At the end of the year I might take your hand off but at the moment no, I’d want more. One major would make it a great year. But I wouldn’t take just one win and I’m keen to get out there and have a bumper year with plenty of wins.”

Harrington is back in Johor this week surveying the wreckage of the worst season of his career. It goes without saying that he’d take your hand off for a win.

He’s earned less money on the European Tour this season than he did in 1996, when he won the Spanish Open in his rookie year. He’s missed the cut in two of the four majors and made up the numbers in the other two. He fell out of the world’s top 50. He failed to quaify for a WGC for the first time

He also sacked his long time coach Bob Torrance in August but has failed so far to find immediate success with new man Pete Cowen. Last week he missed the cut by seven shots in the Singapore Open and as a result he needs to produce his best results of the year in either of his last two regular season starts in Malaysia or Hong Kong to avoid missing the European Tour’s season-ending event for the first time since he joined the paid ranks.

Harrington blogged about his Singapore performance on Monday but rather than pointing to his tally of 70 putts for two rounds - 34 in a two-under par first round and 36 in a second round 77, he blamed his poor iron play.

“For the past couple of months I have played very well but haven’t really got the best out of my rounds.  Last week wasn’t like that and I struggled with my irons all week.  I hit them poorly and gave myself very few birdie opportunities, which is just not good enough any week but certainly not when the scoring is good.

“In my first round on the easier course at Sentosa, the Tanjong, I started a little ropey but I got it going with three birdies in a row from the fifth, however this was to be the highlight of my round.  I turned in three under and made a bad bogey on the tenth from 105 yards, which stopped me in my tracks and I struggled from there to the clubhouse.  

“I ended up shooting two under par for the round which was a poor score on this course, which was playing very easy as you are hitting wedges on almost all the holes; really you should be shooting at least four or five under.  My round left me outside the cut mark heading to the tougher course, the Serapong, on Friday.

“My second round was no better than my first as I struggled again all day with my irons.  I just wasn’t able to hit them close and seeing as I needed to shoot a decent round, it was always going to be hard and I wasn’t able to give myself any realistic chances…..

“After finishing my second round I was thinking about how I hit my irons and it seemed that nearly every shot I hit came out of the toe.  After thinking about it for a while I figured out what it was - last week I changed my address position and in doing so I had got a bit too far from the ball, causing me to catch my irons out of the toe.  

“It was disappointing to only figure it out when it was too late but at least I managed to get to the bottom of it.  I hit some shots afterwards working on getting closer to the ball and it felt a lot better.”

If 2011 has been as frustrating for Harrington as 2010, he would be no surprise to hear him describe it as a watershed season when he reflects in a few weeks’ time.

He’s hitting the ball straighter than ever off the tee but lost his edge with the wedges and the putter, two elements of his game which will surely be razor-sharp when he comes back out next year.

Down to 83rd in the world, Harrington joins a notable group of major champions who have fallen on ‘hard times’ in recent years.

Tiger Woods claimed a mini victory when he scraped back to 50th in the world when he finished third in the Australian Open on Sunday. But he also pushed two-time US Open champion Retief Goosen down to 51st with three-time major winner Ernie Els now 52nd. Another two-time major winner, Angel Cabrera, is 115th.

Even Phil Mickelson, winner of four majors, is outside the top 10 at No 12. Goosen, Harrington, Els, Cabrera and Mickelson are now in their 40’s. Even 41-year old  Jim Furyk, the 2003 US Open champion, is down from fifth to 41st in the world this year.

It appears to be a young man’s game now with the likes of Rory McIlroy, Martin Kaymer, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Webb Simpson and Nick Watney dominating leaderboards these days.

Harrington and Co will be determined to prove they still have plenty of golf left in them. They have the determination but is the hunger the same when you have achieved so much in the game? Guess we’re about to find out.