Colin Montgomerie returns to Fota Island in Cork as defending champion seeking an unprecedented fourth Murphy's Irish Open title.
Twelve months ago Montgomerie followed Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo and Bernhard Langer into the record books when he became only the fourth player to win the title three times when he shot a closing 66, five under par, for an 18 under par total of 266. The Scot led from start to finish to record the 25th European Tour title of an outstanding career, finishing five strokes ahead of home favourites Darren Clarke and Padraig Harrington and Sweden's Niclas Fasth.
The success brought an end to Montgomerie's longest spell since 1991 without a win and he will once again be looking to draw support from Cork's enthusiastic golfing supporters as he seeks to defend the title. Victory at Fota Island will take Montgomerie back to the top of the Volvo Order of Merit, the position he made his own from 1993 to 1999.
Clarke and Harrington once again lead the Irish challenge in their bid to become the first Irishmen to win their national Open since John O'Leary won the title in 1982.
Indeed the field boasts no fewer than seven of the current European Ryder Cup team with Thomas Björn, Phillip Price and Lee Westwood joining Clarke, Harrington, Fasth, and Montgomerie. The 2002 Captain Sam Torrance, twice a winner of the Murphy's Irish Open, is also in the starting line-up.
Among the invites are the Northern Irish duo of Michael Hoey, the 2001 Amateur Champion, and Graeme McDowell, who made his European Tour debut in last week's Great North Open at De Vere Slaley Hall. Hoey and McDowell have both joined the professional ranks after helping steer Great Britain and Ireland to victory in last year's Walker Cup at Ocean Forest, Sea Island, Georgia. American Fred Funk, a winner of five events on the US PGA Tour, is another invite to Fota Island.
This year marks the final year of Murphy's sponsorship of the Irish Open. In 1994 Murphy Brewery Ireland took over as title sponsors and David Carter, Sergio Garcia, Bernhard Langer, Montgomerie, three times, Patrik Sjöland and Sam Torrance have added their names to the illustrious honours board.
Developed in 1993, the course was originally designed by Senior British Open champion, Christy O'Connor Jnr, and Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup Captain, Peter McEvoy
In 1998 the course was purchased by the Killeen Group, owners of the Mount Juliet resort in Kilkenny, and under the direction of Jeff Howes, who originally worked with Jack Nicklaus at Mount Juliet, the course has been significantly redesigned. The course re-opened in September 1999 after an 18 month, £2.2 million programme which saw new routing for eight of the holes and the rebuilding of all 18 greens and tees.