Three weeks of world class golf in Ireland and the United Kingdom will kick off this week at the beautiful Adare Manor Hotel and Golf Resort which, for the second year in succession, will play host to the Irish Open.
The BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth Club in England and The Celtic Manor Wales Open will follow in subsequent weeks but, for now, the attention of The European Tour International Schedule will focus on the Emerald Isle and the quest to win one of the oldest and most prestigious titles in world golf.
The fact that Ireland is centre stage is highly appropriate for its golfing sons have been precisely that too in tournament play around the globe of late, with a remarkable run of success which will only serve to heighten the enthusiasm of the crowds who will, once again, flock to County Limerick in their thousands.
In three successive weeks recently on The European Tour, the man with the silverware in his hands come Sunday night has been Irish: Damien McGrane in the Volvo China Open; Darren Clarke in the BMW Asian Open; and Peter Lawrie in the Open de España, the trio adding to Graeme McDowell’s victory in the inaugural Ballantine’s Championship in Korea in March.
If these facts alone are not enough to excite a traditionally knowledgeable and fervent home support, the icing on the cake is that the defending champion is Padraig Harrington who will return home too, of course, as the reigning Open Champion.
The 36 year old can expect a hero’s welcome when he sets about trying to match current European Ryder Cup Captain Nick Faldo who retained The Irish Open title while Open Champion 15 years ago.
Reflecting on his success at Adare Manor 12 months ago, Harrington said: “As it turned out The Irish Open victory meant more than even I realised at the time. I always found it very difficult to handle the pressure, the distractions and the general hype of an Irish Open. Years of that building up, the fact that no Irishman had won it in 25 years, the media hype going into the event and then to actually finally win the tournament was ever so big for me.
“I don’t think I would have ever felt as if I had had a true career unless I had gone on to win The Irish Open. It was a relief but overall there was a sense of euphoria to go on and win it.
“The 18th at Adare is a great setting in front of the Manor, and winning the play-off there was a beautiful moment for me. That’s how I felt at the time but little did I know how much of an effect it would have on the rest of my year.
“It definitely was a big catalyst for going on to win The Open. I definitely felt more comfortable and I gained self confidence from that win. There is no question The Irish Open is the fifth biggest tournament in the world to me. You have the four Majors and then to win an Irish Open is right up there.”
One look at the Roll of Honour will show, however, that the Irish Open is a truly international event and once again a cosmopolitan field has assembled to vie for the lion’s share of the €2,500,000 prize fund.
Lee Westwood, currently third on The European Tour Order of Merit, will lead the strong international brigade trying to dethrone Harrington and the Englishman will be joined by a further 73 European Tour champions, including eight-time European Tour Order of Merit winner Colin Montgomerie.