World No 59 Padraig Harrington will begin his assault on the top 50 when he starts his season in the Volvo Golf Champions in South Africa for the second year running.
The 41-year old will brush off his winter cobwebs after a seven-week break when he tees it up in the 35-man field at the Durban Country Club from January 10-13 - the city where he made his first cheque as a European Tour player in 1996.
Like Darren Clarke, Retief Goosen, Colin Montgomerie, José María Olazábal and Thomas Björn, the three-time major winner qualifies for the year-opening ‘tournament of champions’ as a European Tour member with more than ten European Tour victories.
Harrington, who finished tied for 10th behind Branden Grace at Fancourt this year but hasn’t won a European Tour event since his 2008 US PGA victory, believes that travelling to Durban for the no-cut, €2m event is the perfect way to begin his 2013 campaign.
“I was playing really well towards the end of 2012 and now that I am part-way through my winter training programme, I am looking forward to getting out on Tour and competing,” said the Dubliner, who will be joined in South Africa by Portugal Masters winner Shane Lowry and Hassan II champion Michael Hoey.
“I think this is an ideal tournament to start my year off where there is a limited elite field to test myself against, no cut and beautiful weather. It is a great event and I am very much looking forward to returning to South Africa in January.”
Harrington won the PGA Grand Slam of Golf in Bermuda in October to end a two-year victory drought but he badly needs a win or a big finish in an event offer world ranking points as he battles to return to the world’s elite.
While he is likely to qualify fo the WGC-Accenture Match Play in Tucson in February after a missing this year’s edition, he will want to make sure he is in the top 50 by March so that he doesn’t miss the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral in Miami.
His failure to return to the world’s top 50 at the end of 2010 severely hampered his 2012 Ryder Cup campaign and while he’s exempt for all four major until the end of the 2013 season, he’s determined to get back into that elite top 50 bracket to give himself the best chance of qualifying for the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles.
He is expected to head from South Africa to the UAE for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship but it remains to be seen if he will play the Waste Management Open in Phoenix.
The Scottsdale event takes place the week before the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and the Northern Trust Open and it could mean four events in a row if he also qualifies for the Match Play in Arizona. With the Honda Classic and the WGC at Doral taking place in the two weeks after Tucson, two events Harrington has traditionally played in the past, he faces some tough scheduling decisions.
His presence in the elite Volvo Golf Champions means that the 35-man field will feature the winners of 234 European Tour titles and 14 Majors.
Five South Africans have qualified this year with Grace and Goosen joined by 27-time European Tour winner and Open champion Ernie Els, 2010 Open champion Louis Oosthuizen and Avantha Masters winner Jbe Kruger.
They will face a tough challenge from a field that is represented by a total of 16 nationalities including 2012 Ryder Cup winners Nicolas Colsaerts, Peter Hanson, Paul Lawrie and Francesco Molinari, former Ryder Cup winners Paul Casey, Henrik Stenson and Miguel Ángel Jiménez, Italian sensation Matteo Manassero and India’s Jeev Milkha Singh.
Irish Open champion Jamie Donaldson will also tee it up while Goosen is hoping to show a return to form as he continues his recovery from the back operation he had in August.
“Everything has been going really well with my rehabilitation and I am back out on the course enjoying playing golf with my family and friends,” Goosen said.
“I am confident I will be ready to compete come the Volvo Champions and I am very excited to play my first tournament back at the Durban Country Club in front of my home fans.”
The renowned Durban Country Club was recently voted one of the Top 100 golf courses in the world by Golf Magazine USA and boasts an impressive résumé having hosted the South African Open on no less than 17 occasions.
2013 Volvo Golf Champions Field
Winners of all the fully sanctioned and co-sanctioned tournaments listed below:
1 Volvo Golf Champions Branden Grace
2 Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship Robert Rock
3 Commercialbank Qatar Masters Paul Lawrie
4 Omega Dubai Desert Classic Rafael Cabrera-Bello
5 Avantha Masters Jbe Kruger
6 Open de Andalucia de Golf Julien Quesne
7 Trophee Hassan II Michael Hoey
8 Sicilian Open Thorbjorn Olesen
9 Maybank Malaysian Open Louis Oosthuizen
10 Ballantine’s Championship Bernd Wiesberger
11 Reale Seguros Open de Espana Francesco Molinari
12 Madeira Islands Open Ricardo Santos
13 Volvo World Match Play Championship Nicolas Colsaerts
14 ISPS Handa Wales Open Thongchai Jaidee
15 Saint-Omer Open presented by Neuflize OBC Darren Fichardt
16 BMW International Open Danny Willett
17 Irish Open Jamie Donaldson
18 Alstom Open de France Marcel Siem
19 Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open Jeev Milkha Singh
20 The Open Ernie Els
21 Omega European Masters Richie Ramsay
22 KLM Open Peter Hanson
23 Italian Open Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano
24 Portugal Masters Shane Lowry
25 Barclays Singapore Open Matteo Manassero
26 Hong Kong Open Miguel Angel Jimenez
27 South African Open Henrik Stenson
28 Nelson Mandela Invitational Scott Jamieson
Past winners of the Volvo Golf Champions under 50 years of age on the first day of the tournament.
29 Paul Casey
Players with 10 or more official Race to Dubai/European Tour Order of Merit tournament wins under 50 years of age on the first day of the tournament.
30 Colin Montgomerie
31 Padraig Harrington
32 Retief Goosen
33 Darren Clarke
34 Thomas Bjorn
35 José Maria Olazabal