Padraig Harrington, who was world No 3 in 2008, is now 54th but closing in on a return to the Top-50. Picture Eoin Clarke/www.golffile.iePadraig Harrington could return to the world’s top-50 after a 17-month absence in Shanghai next week.

The three-time major winner, 41, was ranked as high as third in the world following his victories in The Open and the US PGA in 2008. But having slipped as far as 96th in the world on 3 June this year, he is now 54th and within touching distance of getting back into the top-50 at next week’s inaugural BMW Masters at Lake Malaren.

A top-five finish in the 78-man, no-cut event would guarantee Harrington’s return to the top-50 for the for the first time since May 22 last year. But he could also make the move with a top-ten finish, depending on the performances of other players.

Without a victory anywhere since October 2010 and winless on the European Tour since August 2008, a BMW Masters triumph would get him into the field for the following week’s WGC-HSBC Champions at Mission Hills.

He hasn’t played in a World Golf Championship since the 2011 Bridgestone Invitational and his absence from the elite events was one of the reasons why he failed to qualify automatically for Jose Maria Olazabal’s European Ryder Cup team last month.

Making the 2014 side is an ambition and by making the top 50 in the world by the end of this year he will be able to plan ahead and rack up the necessary world ranking points when the 2014 Ryder Cup qualifying campaign starts late next season.

Qualifying for the 2014 Ryder Cup begins next September and Harrington’s goal is now to get himself back into the higher echelons of the world rankings as soon as possible.

When he failed to earna wildcard this year, Harrington said: “It only makes me keener now to qualify for 2014 and my qualification for 2014 starts now. I know I have got to get myself into position for when it starts in September 2013.

“I have got to be in a good position starting off because there aren’t that many places available. You have got have a big year or else be in a really good position, gathering points straight away, which I didn’t do. I wasn’t in position and then I didn’t have the big performances.”

Harrington is hitting the ball further and finding more fairways and greens that he did in his major winning years of 2007 and 2008. But he is also taking a stroke more per round on the greens and his putting remains his biggest headache as he bids to get scale the heights again.