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Padraig Harrington seeks rankings boost

Ireland's Padraig Harrington has an extra incentive to produce a successful defence of his title at the $800,000 Hong Kong Open which starts on Thursday.

The world number six says a poor performance in this week's event, which is jointly sanctioned by the European and Asian tours, could cause him to slip down the rankings at the end of the year.

"I would be sixth in the world on January 1 if I didn't tee up this week," Harrington told reporters on Wednesday.

"By playing this week, it is possible that I could drop to seventh in the world if I do badly. So I need to play well and try and win it again.

"I played well here last year and it's a good reason to come back as this course obviously suits me. I've always believed that you should defend a title if you have the opportunity," said Harrington.

The Irishman will face strong competition in the second event on the 2005 European Tour calendar.

Among his rivals are six-times major champion Nick Faldo, Britain's Ian Poulter, Spaniards Miguel Angel Jimenez and twice U.S. Masters winner Jose Maria Olazabal, Dane Thomas Bjorn and last week's China Open champion Stephen Dodd of Britain.

Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee, the leader on the Asian money list and winner of the Malaysian and Myanmar opens, compatriots Prayad Marksaeng and Thawaorn Wiratchant, and Chinese number one Zhang Lianwei head a powerful Asian challenge.

Harrington, however, is unfazed at the strength and depth of the field that will tee off at the par-70 Hong Kong Golf Club in Fanling.

"I have had a long year but my game is pretty good. I'm probably going to take it a bit easier this week," said the European Ryder Cup player.

"Last year I practised a lot during the week but this year I will try not to get too tired. But my aim is still to win."

The pony-tailed Jimenez, Europe's most prolific winner this year with four victories to his credit, will hope to continue his love affair with Asia.

"I love this part of the world. I've played well this past year and I will try to beat Padraig over here," said Jimenez, a winner in Thailand and Shanghai earlier this year.

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