http://www.sportinglife.com/golf/news/story_get.cgi?STORY_NAME=golf/07/10/31/GOLF_Valderrama_Harrington.html

By Mark Garrod, PA Sport Golf Correspondent

The morning after winning the Open Championship in July Padraig Harrington told the world: "I'm in a good mood and I will be for the next week, the next year, the next 10 years."

Human nature being what it is, the Dubliner has not, of course, worn a permanent smile on his face every day since.

But last Sunday in Morocco he had his first victory since Carnoustie and this Sunday he could have something else to be happy about, a successful defence of the European Order of Merit title.

A look at the table with only the Volvo Masters at Valderrama to go shows Ernie Els out in front by £152,426.

But the South African, winner of the money list in 2003 and 2004, is in Singapore rather than Spain.

Harrington needs a top-three finish to pass him and, as well as the timely lift of pushing Darren Clarke into second place in the Hassan Trophy at the weekend, his confidence should also be boosted by the memory of last season.

At the same point in the race the 36-year-old was £151,978 behind Paul Casey and grabbed the number one spot by £23,615 by being part of a three-way tie for second - thanks to Sergio Garcia bogeying the final hole.

So tight was it that Harrington had to wait until the maths was done to be sure he had climbed to the top of the tree. This time it is a lot simpler.

Also still in the race to overtake Els are Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson and Niclas Fasth. For the two Swedes nothing short of victory this weekend will suffice, while Rose trails Harrington by the tiny amount of £461 and so will take the Order of Merit if he finishes in the top three as long as the Irishman is behind him.

"You can't beat a win and I'm looking forward to getting out there later this week," said Harrington in Rabat. "I have another important task."

To be in contention for the money list is something Florida-based Rose never envisaged at the start of the season.

Of the first 35 events he played in only five, but that was made up of a win in Australia, second in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, fifth in both the Masters and the WGC-Accenture Match Play and 10th in the US Open.

When the 27-year-old then added 12th place finishes in the Open and USPGA and in between was runner-up to Tiger Woods in the WGC Bridgestone Invitational, he gave himself a chance, and when he was second again in the Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews it became a very good chance.

Since then, though, have come two disappointments. After a first-round exit to Hunter Mahan at the HSBC World Match Play - Harrington went out on the same day to Anders Hansen - he managed "only" 21st place in the Portugal Masters and so did not move ahead of Harrington, let alone Els.

Before travelling to Vilamoura Rose suffered a recurrence of the back trouble which kept him out for two five-week spells either side of Augusta.

"I'm trying not to think about it and I'm looking forward to the end of the year more than anything else really so I can address all these things," he stated.

"I was playing through the pain barrier a little bit, but it is actually a little bit of 'beware the injured golfer' because it is making me swing a lot smoother.

"It is just more of a mental thing with it nagging away at me, but listen, I'm done talking about it - it is what it is, we all know the story and I just have to get myself fit.

"Is it a threat to my career? We are not at that stage now and I would not want to get to that stage. If I neglected it now, then it probably would end my career. But if we put the right precautions in place right now it won't be an issue."

For Rose to grab the title now would complete a remarkable journey. Nine years ago, aged just 17, he was fourth in the Open at Birkdale, but then turned professional and missed the halfway cut in his first 21 tournaments.

It was almost a year before he collected his first cheque, one for less than £1,000 for 74th and last place in the European Grand Prix at Slaley Hall near Newcastle.

That season he finished 197th on the Order of Merit and had to go back to the qualifying school twice more.

Now Rose is close to joining the world's top 10 and next September is expected to earn his first Ryder Cup cap.

Because they are the highest-ranked players in the field Harrington and Rose will go head-to-head in the final group of Thursday's first round, immediately preceded by Stenson and Fasth.