The pair formed their enduring bond as aspiring amateurs at the Co. Down links when they were on opposing sides in the 2007 Walker Cup, which Fowler’s United States team edged by 12½-11½ in McIlroy’s last appearance before he joined the professional ranks.
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Since then, they have gone on to become not only firm friends, but also two of the game’s leading players, with McIlroy having won four Major Championships and Fowler, the current World Number Nine, this year joining Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as only the third player to finish in the top five in all four Major Championships in a single season.
McIlroy and Fowler, who are both 25 years old, have been widely tipped to form one of golf’s most appealing rivalries over the coming years following their memorable battles down the stretch in The Open Championship and US PGA Championship this summer, and their two matches in The Ryder Cup in September.
McIlroy and Sergio Garcia fought back to claim half a point against Fowler and his partner Jimmy Walker in the Friday Afternoon Foursomes at Gleneagles, before McIlroy then produced a sensational performance to defeat Fowler 5&4 in the Sunday Singles.
Fowler was the first player McIlroy approached to join the field for next year’s Irish Open after it was announced that his charitable foundation, The Rory Foundation, will become the official tournament host from 2015, demonstrating his commitment to enhancing the already impressive Irish Open line-up by recruiting some of the leading players from both the European and US PGA for 2015.
The tournament is returning to McIlroy’s native Northern Ireland for the second time in four years following Royal Portrush in 2012, with Royal County Down Golf Club hosting the prestigious event for the first time in 76 years.
McIlroy, the reigning Open and US PGA Champion, announced Fowler’s participation in the 2015 Irish Open, which takes place fromMay 28-31, on the eve of The European Tour’s season-ending DP World Tour Championship, Dubai, where he will be crowned as winner of The Race to Dubai for a second time in three years.
McIlroy said: “I am delighted that Rickie has decided to add the Irish Open to his schedule next year. I really look forward to him joining me at Royal County Down, one of the world’s finest links courses.
“Rickie’s performances in the Majors and The Ryder Cup this year showed that he is not only one of the top players in the world, but also one of the most watchable. I know the Irish crowds will really take to him and enjoy seeing him in action next May. He was one of the first people I thought of when the Rory Foundation became the official host of the Irish Open, and his presence in the field will only add to tournament’s prestige.
“We have become good friends since we played at Royal County Down in the Walker Cup in 2007, so it will be special for us both to go back there. It would also be great if we could both be in contention towards the end, just like in the Majors this year. I think Rickie’s decision to play also demonstrates the international appeal of Ireland’s top courses and confirms why we are keen for the Irish Open to showcase them.”
Fowler said: “When Rory told me the Irish Open was going to Royal County Down I was really keen to play because of the special memories we have there, and also because it is such a great course. It’s amazing what the players from that Walker Cup have gone on to achieve in the years since we played there, so I’m sure Rory and I will have plenty to reminisce about.
“Rory and I have obviously become good friends I think it is cool what he is trying to do with the Irish Open through the Rory Foundation, so I’m looking forward to being a part of it. It would be neat to think that we could maybe both be battling it out again at Royal County Down next summer, just like we did in the Majors this year.”
Royal County Down Golf Club was recently voted fourth on Golf Digest’s 2014 list of the World’s Top 100 Courses, underlining its reputation on the global golfing stage.
It last hosted the Irish Open in 1939, when Englishman, Arthur Lees, was crowned champion, while the Newcastle links also hosted The Senior Open Championship on three occasions from 2000-2002 - won by home favourite Christy O’Connor Jnr, Australian Ian Stanley and Japan’s Noboru Sugai respectively. One of the major beneficiaries of The Rory Foundation, the Cancer Fund for Children, is located in Newcastle, just a few miles from Royal County Down.
Tickets to see Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler as part of the world class field in the 2015 Irish Open are on sale now, with substantial discounts available as part of an early bird ticket offer that end on December 31. For more information, and for details of hospitality packages available, visit www.irishopen.ie or www.europeantour.com/tickets, or by call +44 (0)800 023 2557.
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