Harrington holds Europe's hopes

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Padraig Harrington has reasons to be cheerful as he turns his thoughts to the Masters. But that will change if he starts the first round in Augusta the same way he began the final round of the BellSouth Classic here on Sunday.

Harrington finished fourth at Sugarloaf, three strokes behind the winner, Zach Johnson. Seven days after his runner-up finish in the Players' Championship a shot behind Adam Scott, that is not a bad way to warm up for the first major of the year.

But, when you are in the last group on the last day, playing the opening three holes in four over par is not part of the plan. It took Harrington from three behind to eight adrift when another double bogey followed two holes later. The 32-year-old Irishman is a fighter, however, and an eagle and five birdies enabled him to maintain his high spirits heading across Georgia, even if it did not enable him to record his first US Tour victory.

On recent form, the Ryder Cup player is Europe's main hope to end a barren spell in the majors which stretches back to Paul Lawrie's 1999 Open win at Carnoustie. The other European to leave Atlanta on Sunday night with spirits high was England's Luke Donald after an eighth-place finish that takes his 2004 earnings past the £400,000-mark it took him all last year to reach.

But the 26-year-old is not in the Masters and unless he can get himself into the other three majors, he seems likely to miss this year's Ryder Cup. All US Tour-based Europeans have been asked to commit themselves to 11 European events to fulfil the membership criteria necessary to be eligible, presenting the likes of Donald and Jesper Parnevik, also not playing this week, with a dilemma.

* The women's world No 1, Annika Sorenstam, claimed the 50th LPGA title of her 11-year career on Sunday by defending the Office Depot Championship in Caballero, California. A final-round 69 for a nine-under 207 secured a three-shot win for the 33-year-old Swede over Ashli Bunch and Meg Mallon, both of the United States.