Harrington sets up hat-trick bid

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The Independent Online

When that privileged breed known as the golfing professional is flabbergasted by a sum of money, you know it has to be on the gargantuan side of astronomic. But so it was at the Abu Dhabi Championship here yesterday as the European Tour gathered in the Emirates state that has just redefined the term "sporting riches".

On pro-am day, the players usually spend their time trying to get out of the cack – but on this occasion it was all about getting over the Kaka. "How much?" was Colin Montgomerie's startled response when told about Manchester City's offer for the Milan playmaker. That's £91m, Monty, which seems a sickening amount until it is remembered that the average net worth of each of Abu Dhabi's 420,000 national citizens is £12m. Every street could afford a galactico. What added to the intrigue was not just the venue, but also that the City chairman Khaldoon al Mubarak was due to play in the tournament curtain-raiser. Indeed, Sheikh Mansour's representative on Planet Premier League was due to play with Prince Andrew but, in the event, he had to cry off, though the Prince also scratched.

Attention could instead finally be switched to an event in which the world Nos 2 and 3, Sergio Garcia and Padraig Harrington, will lead out a field promising to open the "European" golfing year in some style. While Garcia yesterday labelled his game as "a little rusty", his Irish rival was ready to hit the desert track running. Harrington declared that his countdown to the Masters begins here, as he tries to become just the third golfer in history to win three majors in succession.

"It's there in front of me," said the 37-year-old. "The next major is always the focus. I have had my eye on it ever since August and the USPGA Championship." Also in attendance here are the Masters champion, Trevor Immelman, and the remarkable young Ulsterman, Rory McIlroy. They will be competing for the £220,000 first prize. Or in Kaka speak, a full week's wages.