McDowell says Irish Open will ‘feel like major’ with Portrush buzzing
The atmosphere is “buzzing” at the sellout Irish Open at Royal Portrush and the tournament has the feel of a major championship, world No 11 Graeme McDowell said yesterday.
The appearance of Northern Irish trio McDowell, Rory McIlroy and British Open winner Darren Clarke at this week’s event, plus triple major champion Padraig Harrington of Ireland, has helped the European Tour to achieve a first by declaring a sellout for all four days.
Organisers are expecting around 100,000 people to turn up as the tournament returns to the famous old links course for the first time since 1947.
“When these crowds come in over the next few days it’s going to feel like a major championship,” McDowell told the BBC at County Antrim. “The golf course will certainly be major championship standard and there’s no doubt there will be a little bit of added expectation from the fans looking to see the Irish boys play well,” added the 2010 US Open winner.
“Royal Portrush is a golf club with a huge amount of history, given the British Open was staged here in 1951. But in the modern era this is one of the proudest moments for this golf club, for the area and for Northern Ireland. It’s a huge thrill to see such a great field assembled and everyone is buzzing and excited.”
World No 2 McIlroy has fond memories of Portrush, where as a 16-year-old he shot a record 11-under 61 during the 2005 North of Ireland Championship. Now 23, this will be the first time 2011 US Open winner McIlroy has played in front of his home fans as a professional.
“To be one of the three or four guys who helped make this happen through our major successes also gives me a huge sense of pride – it’s great to have played a part and it’s kind of a dream come true,” added McDowell. McIlroy believes he has made progress following a disappointing US Open and can overcome a slump in form that has seen him miss the cut on four out of his last five outings.
“I feel like I’ve made a lot of progress and I’m really looking forward to this week and hopefully giving myself a chance to win here,” McIlory told Sky Sports. “I’m feeling good and had some really good practice over the last ten days and my game feels in really good shape.”
Fans eager to get a glimpse of some of the world’s elite golfers flocked to yesterday’s practice and up to 500 spectators followed McIlroy as he went through his paces.
“(Tuesday’s turnout) wouldn’t be normal on a European tour, a major you would expect it but it’s fantastic to see so many people out here,” said McIlroy.
As for Harrington, one practice round yesterday was enough to tell him that it is no ordinary Irish Open this week. For the first time since 1953 the event is being played in Northern Ireland over a Royal Portrush links the Dubliner rates his favourite in the whole of golf.
“It seems like it was an inspired decision,” Harrington said after playing with USPGA champion Keegan Bradley, whose Irish roots led to him taking up a chance to play. “I’m thrilled it’s here and I don’t think you could surpass the atmosphere that there’s going to be.”
Whether the course has the infrastructure to stage the British Open again remains the big debating point, but the R&A are watching this week with interest. Two-time Open winner Harrington now serves as an ambassador for the R&A and says: “The course is comfortably capable challenge-wise, but I’ve not gone into event management at this stage. They would love to bring it here, but there are bigger issues.”
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Wednesday 19 June 2013
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