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Padraig Harrington returns after two month break

Irishman Padraig Harrington has ended a two-month break from competition to begin as favourite in the Malaysian Open starting on Thursday at Kuala Lumpur's Saujana Golf & Country Club.

Harrington, who has twice finished runner-up here, joins Denmark's Thomas Bjorn, Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez and compatriot Paul McGinley plus Thailand's defending champion Thongchai Jaidee in the co-sanctioned event.

It is the first tournament in Harrington's 10th year as a professional, when he will compete as a full member of the U.S. PGA Tour as well as in Europe.

"I am certainly looking forward to my it," the world number eight, the highest-ranked player in the field, told reporters on Wednesday.

"I practised a lot in the winter and did some work on my swing. I am very happy where my swing is.

"It's familiar territory here, where I have finished second twice before.

"I am hoping all those factors will get me over being a little rusty and that I will contend well this week," added the Irishman, whose impressive playing record in Asia includes wins at the 2002 Asian Open and the 2003 Hong Kong Open.

As usual, Harrington has penned down his goals for the year without being prepared to disclose them.

The 33-year-old, though, played down suggestions that 2005 could prove to be a watershed season in his career.

"I don't believe this year will be any more important than any other," he said.

"When you start out, you always hope this will be the year. I do believe I am coming more into my peak but, if it doesn't happen this year, I am quite patient and will wait another.

"I suppose the next eight to nine years for a golfer, from his early 30s to early 40s, are the time most guys play well so these are important years coming up."

Ryder Cup player McGinley is making his first appearance on the 2005 European Tour after travelling from California, where he finished in the middle of the field at last week's Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

He said he was still suffering discomfort from corrective surgery on his left knee carried out two days after last November's World Cup of Golf.

"The knee swelled up at the weekend but that is to be expected," said McGinley.

"It is a little sore when I walk but I have no real complaints. The surgeon said it will be two to three months before I am out of the woods but the major part of the recovery is over."

The Irishman is down in 76th on the world rankings and looking to break back into the top 50 to qualify automatically for the majors and the lucrative World Golf Championships (WGC).

"You can't compete in the big tournaments unless you are in the top 50 and no other status gets you into the world golf events and the majors," said McGinley, who holed the winning putt for Europe at the 2002 Ryder Cup.

"That's the bottom line and that's the premier league.

McGinley is guaranteed just one start in the 2005 majors -- in August's U.S. PGA Championship at Baltusrol, New Jersey -- while he has yet to qualify for the two strokeplay WGC events.

Dane Bjorn has also returned to competition after a week's break while Jimenez is back from a two-month break after winning the co-sanctioned Hong Kong Open last December.

 

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