The Irish quartet of Darren Clarke, Padraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell and Paul McGinley spearhead the home challenge in this week’s Nissan Irish Open at Carton House against a world-class field that includes US Open Champion Michael Campbell and The 2005 European Tour Number One Colin Montgomerie.
The Irish crowd will naturally be behind their own star players as they bid to earn automatic qualification for Ian Woosnam’s European Team for this year’s Ryder Cup and at the same time emulate the achievement of the last Irish winner, John O’Leary, in 1982.
The aforementioned Irish foursome would dearly love to follow in O’Leary’s footsteps and Harrington, after his final round of 68 at The De Vere Belfry in The Quinn Direct British Masters, showed he is on the right track, as is Northern Ireland’s McDowell after his top ten finish on Sunday. Clarke was also right in contention until the final few holes at The De Vere Belfry.
Campbell, meanwhile, was another player to make his strong showing in The Quinn Direct British Masters, where he challenged all the way before finishing joint fifth.
The popular New Zealander, who won the 2003 Nissan Irish Open at Portmarnock, is always afforded a warm welcome in Ireland, and arrives in Maynooth still enjoying the memory of his fantastic Major victory at Pinehurst No.2 last June.
Clarke, Harrington and McGinley will be joined by 2004 Ryder Cup team mates Paul Casey and David Howell of England, and all will be hoping for the victory at Carton House which would edge them closer to retaining their places in the record-breaking side that won at Oakland Hills, Detroit, USA, in 2004.
Casey narrowly missed out on at The De Vere Belfry last, finishing joint fifth with Campbell, while Howell returned to action after a month out through injury, with a credible joint 11th finish.
Howell, of course, lost out on the 2005 Nissan Irish Open after a sudden-death play-off with Welshman Stephen Dodd, who birdied the first extra play-off hole last year to record his second European Tour triumph.
Dodd is relishing the chance to return to the scene of his second European Tour success. He said: “It is always nice to go back to places that you have done well at and felt comfortable with. It brings back fond memories and I am looking forward to going back to it. I hit it straight off the tee and my short game was good last year, so I am hoping to take some of that with me when I go back.
“The crowds are always great at the Irish Opens too. They gave me great support throughout the week which was much appreciated. I’m looking forward to going back and playing in front of them again too.”
Montgomerie, meanwhile, designed the course along with European Golf Design and will be hoping his insider knowledge will serve him well in his quest to win a fourth title.
“I am looking forward to competing again,” he said. “Last year’s finish was disappointing but it is not easy playing your own course.” Montgomerie finished in a share of 28th a year ago.
“However I am looking forward to the challenge again and there would, undoubtedly, be no greater thrill than winning on your own course.”