New Zealand’s Michael Campbell will be looking to continue his love affair with Ireland when he defends his Nissan Irish Open title at County Louth Golf Club, Baltray, this week.
Campbell arrives in the Emerald Isle, where he also won the 2002 Smurfit European Open at The K Club, in a rich vein of form having finished runner-up in The Barclays Scottish Open at Loch Lomond a fortnight ago before an impressive week at Royal Troon saw him tie for 20th in the 133rd Open Golf Championship.
His experience of links golf from last week is sure to stand him in good stead over the fine layout at County Louth Golf Club, one of Ireland’s great links courses, which will be hosting the Nissan Irish Open for the first time.
Campbell, of course, won the title on another of Ireland’s great links courses 12 months ago when he emerged victorious from a play-off with Thomas Björn of Denmark and Sweden’s Peter Hedblom at Portmarnock Golf Club, hitting a magnificent eight iron to 12 inches for a winning birdie.
Björn is back in action along with six other players from the World Top 50, led by the Irish pair of Padraig Harrington and Darren Clarke. Both are looking to become the first home winners of the title since John O’Leary in 1982.
Miguel Angel Jiménez of Spain, Trevor Immelman of South Africa, both multiple winners on The 2004 European Tour International Schedule, 2003 Open Champion Ben Curtis of America and Australia’s Peter Lonard complete the list of players from the top 50 of the Official World Golf Ranking.
Curtis is one of five Major Champions in the field, Nick Faldo, Paul Lawrie, Sandy Lyle and Ian Woosnam completing the quintet.
The race for a place in the European Ryder Cup Team is entering the home straight with just seven events to count towards the European Points List and only six for the World Points List and among the players hoping to force their way into the team are England’s Ian Poulter, Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell, Frenchman Raphaël Jacquelin and Ireland’s own Paul McGinley, the man who holed the winning putt at The De Vere Belfry two years ago.
Record prize money of €1,900,000 will be on offer for the 49th staging of the event, first played in 1927. The Tom Simpson-designed course, frequently described as one of the country’s hidden gems, is situated four miles from the historic town of Drogheda at the mouth of the River Boyne.