The European Tour travels to Northern Ireland this week where Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Rickie Fowler will be star attractions in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation at the iconic Royal County Down.
With McIlroy’s foundation hosting the event, an increased prize fund of €2,500,000 and the competition being contested on one of the world’s great courses, this tournament has attracted an impressive field. Along with McIlroy, Fowler and Garcia, major champions like Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell and Ernie Els will tee it up.
The Irish Open is an historic event that was first contested back in 1927. Bobby Locke, Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer and Colin Montgomerie have all been champions. This will be the first time since 1939 that the tournament has visited Royal County Down.
Five things to watch for at the Irish Open:
1. Rory McIlroy will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing performance in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. Going into that event as defending champion, he missed the cut with rounds of 71 and 78. But he’s excited at the prospect of playing again in his home country. “Obviously the Irish Open is a tournament that’s close to my heart,” he said. “Now that I’m involved with my foundation hosting the event, and with all the players coming to play Royal County Down, it’s going to be a great week.”
2. Rickie Fowler will be eager to lock horns with McIlroy again over a links course. The Californian pushed McIlroy all the way in The Open Championship at Royal Liverpool last year and the pair have competed with each other before on the Championship Course at Royal County Down. This was the venue for the 2007 Walker Cup, won by the USA.
3. The course at Royal County Down is one of the very best in the world. A magnificent links in a spectacular setting, it was ranked at No. 2 in Golf Monthly magazine’s most recent list of the top-100 courses in the UK and Ireland. It’s 125 years old and the layout has evolved over the years thanks to input from greats like Old Tom Morris and Harry Colt.
4. The strength of the field is extremely impressive for a regular European Tour event. Of the 149 players in the field, no fewer than 95 can boast a previous victory on the circuit. There are seven major champions on the start list and seven former European Number 1s – McIlroy, Luke Donald, Martin Kaymer, Lee Westwood, Robert Karlsson, Padraig Harrington and Ernie Els.
5. The spectators. This event is set to draw huge galleries. Last time this tournament was held at a Northern Irish links was in 2012 when Jamie Donaldson won at Royal Portrush. That competition attracted 130,000 spectators and was the first European Tour event to be sold out. Watch for huge packs of fans following Rory, Rickie and the other big names.