Padraig Harrington, who realised a lifelong ambition when he became European Number One last November, will spearhead the home challenge in this week’s Irish Open at Adare Manor Hotel & Golf Resort.
The World Number 12 has his sights firmly fixed on a title close to his heart and one which would sit nicely in an already impressive CV that includes ten European Tour titles and two victories on the US PGA Tour.
“At this stage I want any Irish title,” he said. “John O’Leary won in 1982, 25 years ago. But this is a great opportunity for me. We are coming to a golf course that suits me and I am looking forward to it.”
In order to succeed, Harrington must overcome a strong field that includes defending champion Thomas Björn of Denmark, former US Open Champion Michael Campbell of New Zealand, winner of this event in 2003, Miguel Angel Jiménez of Spain and Lee Westwood of England, who returned to form in spectacular fashion last week with victory in the Valle Romano Open de Andalucia.
The field is further bolstered by eight other winners from The 2007 European Tour International Schedule – Markus Brier, Ariel Canete, Anton Haig, Peter Hedblom, Mikko Ilonen, Raphaël Jacquelin, Daniel Vancsik and YE Yang – as Ireland hosts top-flight tournament golf for the first time since Ian Woosnam’s European Team triumphed so memorably in The 2006 Ryder Cup at The K Club.
Harrington was part of the team that registered a record-equalling 18 ½ - 9 ½ victory over the United States and another, fellow Irishman Paul McGinley, will be harbouring his own ambitions of emulating the achievement of O’Leary a quarter of a century ago.
The third Irishman in that team, Darren Clarke, who came desperately close to that at Carton House Golf Club last year when he finished in third place, two strokes behind Björn, has unfortunately been forced to withdraw as he struggles to regain fitness froma hamstring injury.
Björn will defend the title after his superb comeback by birdieing the final two holes to capture the title by a shot from Paul Casey. The Dane trailed the lead by nine shots after a first round 78 but battled tenaciously to shoot 66-67-72 to triumph.
On offer to this year’s champion; aside from the first prize of €416,660 from a total purse of €2,500,000, is a specially commissioned crystal trophy. Made by Waterford Crystal, the trophy stands 24 inches tall and reflects the heritage of Adare Manor, the location for the Irish Open for the next three years.
Adding further spice to proceedings in Limerick is the offer of a luxury Spanish apartment, valued at €490,000, for the first player to achieve a hole in one at the 11th hole, which will range from 180 to 235 yards depending on the pin position with the entire shot carried over the picturesque River Maigue. The ‘Home in One’ prize is being offered by McInerney, Ireland’s largest home builder.