The home contingent at this week’s Challenge of Ireland presented by Glasson will be keen to continue the Emerald Isle’s run of recent golfing glory, following Graeme McDowell’s victory in The Barclays Scottish Open and Padraig Harrington’s successful defence of his Open Championship crown.
Harrington’s stunning win at Royal Birkdale took the tally of Irish triumphs on The 2008 European Tour International Schedule to six, following victories for his compatriots Darren Clarke, Peter Lawrie, Damien McGrane and two-time winner McDowell., their most in a single European Tour season.
On the European Challenge Tour, Northern Ireland’s Michael Hoey also added his name to the roll call of Irish champions with victory at the Banque Populaire Moroccan Classic before being joined in the Challenge Tour winners’ enclosure by Irishman Michael McGeady last Sunday at the SWALEC Wales Challenge.
Hoey will be in the field for the second edition of the Challenge of Ireland presented by Glasson, where the stars of the future will again take centre stage.
The Ulsterman is currently 21st in the Challenge Tour Rankings – and therefore just one spot outside qualification for The European Tour next season – with earnings of €34,578.
Hoey said: “Since turning professional I’ve never played particularly well at any event in Ireland, so I’d love to put that right. Maybe I’ve put a bit too much pressure on myself in the past, but for whatever reason it hasn’t really happened for me.
“I’m just outside the top 20 in the Challenge Tour Rankings at the moment, so it’s really important for me to start playing consistently again and climb back into the qualifying places. I’ve just got to cut out the silly mistakes, and hopefully that’ll start at Glasson. I know the course well – it’s tough, particularly if the rough’s up, but it’s fair. I wasn’t ever really in contention last year, but it’d be nice to make amends this time.
“The Irish have had such a great run on The European Tour this season, so it’s probably about time the Challenge Tour boys did our bit. I know Graeme McDowell really well – I played a practice round at The Irish Open with him – and I’ve also played a few practice rounds with Padraig Harrington.
“They’re both great guys, always willing to help out with advice in any way they can. They’re a real inspiration – obviously all the guys on the Challenge Tour want to be where they are. I just hope we can put on a decent show this week.”
Six places above Hoey in the Rankings – currently the highest ranked Irishman on the Challenge Tour – is Gareth Maybin, who was the highest Irish finisher at last year’s Challenge of Ireland presented by Glasson in 15th position.
In what was his first season on the Challenge Tour, Maybin subsequently went on to record three top ten finishes en route to 49th place in the end of season Rankings, thereby securing full-time playing privileges on this year’s schedule.
Another local hero who will join Maybin in the field is Colm Moriarty, the professional at Glasson Golf Hotel & Country Club. Moriarty will be keen to double his tally of Challenge Tour victories in front of his home fans, having triumphed at last year’s FIRSTPLUS Wales Challenge.
Also in the field is Gareth Shaw, who moved from his native Lurgan to take up the offer of a scholarship at a university in America, has collected numerous amateur titles.
The youngster recently received a congratulatory call from his compatriot and European Tour Member Rory McIlroy, after helping Ireland retain the European Team Championship with victory over their English counterparts in Turin.
Having just joined the professional ranks, Shaw will be eligible to compete for the €150,000 prize fund on offer at the Challenge of Ireland presented by Glasson, which was won last year by Magnus A Carlsson and played a huge role in the Swede winning his European Tour card via the final Rankings.
The event, which is supported by the Irish Sports Council, will for the second year be played at Glasson Golf Hotel & Country Club in Athlone. Set against the backdrop of the Lough Ree, the 7,159 yards par 72 course was designed by Christy O’Connor Jnr, one of the greatest golfers Ireland has produced.
|T4||DEL MORAL, Carlos||ESP||18||-6|