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Harrington predicts Tiger will be back

It is simply a question of time before Tiger Woods regains his stranglehold at the pinnacle of the game, according to Ireland's Padraig Harrington.

Woods was displaced as world number one by Fiji's Vijay Singh three weeks ago after more than five years at the top, but Harrington believes the American is still golf's most talented player.

"There's no question about it, Tiger will be back on top of his throne eventually," Harrington told a news conference at Mount Juliet on Wednesday as he prepared for this week's WGC-American Express Championship.

"It's just a question of when rather than whether he will.

"Tiger was performing at the highest level possible, the highest I think that anybody has ever got to, in 2000.

"He then sought to improve on that, which is in the nature of any competitive athlete. But when you're trying to make one step forward, sometimes you step two back.

"Tiger has taken a little bit of the shine off his game trying to improve it, but that doesn't mean he won't come out a better player in another year's time -- or now, let's say this week.

"He may not be the best golfer in the world at this very moment, but he's the most talented," added the 33-year-old Irishman.

Woods, a three-times winner of the American Express Championship, is widely regarded as the best player in the game since Jack Nicklaus but has not won a major since the 2002 U.S. Open.

The dominance he enjoyed in 2000, when he won the last three majors of the year, has gone. The 28-year-old American has not won a strokeplay title since his two-shot victory at the 2003 American Express Championship at Woodstock, Georgia.

Harrington, however, rates the former world number one as hot favourite for this week's event in Ireland, as long as Woods overcomes a shoulder problem.

Woods said it began when he slept awkwardly on a flight back home to Florida from New York last week. He will decide whether to play at Mount Juliet before the start of Thursday's opening round.

"I think his form is coming back and he has something to prove when people are saying he's not going to win a strokeplay event (in 2004)," said Harrington.

"I think that's riling the Tiger a bit. He would be my strong favourite this week because it's a course he's familiar with, a course he enjoys and has had some success on.

"He'll be motivated."

Woods won the 2002 American Express Championship at Mount Juliet, beating South African Retief Goosen by a stroke.

Harrington likes his own chances, though, as he bids for a first tour title on home soil.

"The fact that Tiger hasn't dominated and the fact that Vijay (Singh) isn't playing does open it up more to the players," he said.

Singh, who has won five of his last six tournaments, withdrew on Monday after his home in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida was hit by Hurricane Jeanne.

"Everybody feels like they can compete and contend here," added Harrington. "This is another big week and these world events are very special. A world event is just below a major.

"It's very high on my priorities to win a world event, and it's probably even higher on my priorities to win an event in Ireland.

"I'd hate to go through my career without winning an Irish Open. I would probably have to put them on an equal footing."

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