With a new title sponsor, a prize fund of €3 million and a world-class links setting at County Louth Golf Club in Baltray, the stage is set for thrills in The 3 Irish Open, where the host nation’s hopes of a champion will be spearheaded by the two highest ranked Irishmen in the Official World Golf Ranking; Padraig Harrington and Rory McIlroy.
The talented duo will be joined by a host of other Irish European Tour champions such as Darren Clarke, Michael Hoey, Peter Lawrie, Graeme McDowell, Paul McGinley and Damien McGrane – all of whom are seeking to become the latest home grown player to win The 3 Irish Open following Harrington’s victory in 2007.
While the three remaining Major Championships are Harrington’s driving focus for the season, he places a huge amount of importance on The 3 Irish Open.
He said: “I think if you asked any golfer what the most important tournaments on the calendar were for them, they would all reply that the four Majors are above all others, but then, after that, I would think that every player has a desire to win their national Open. It’s certainly a very big deal for an Irishman to win a national title in front of his home crowd.
“I am very pleased to hear that 3 are sponsoring The Irish Open, I always look forward to playing my national Open and hope I can repeat my success of two years ago.”
After a successful two months playing in the USA, McIlroy is keen to get back to business on The European Tour, and where better to do so than on the classic links at Baltray.
“We don’t play that much links golf on The European Tour so it’s great that The 3 Irish Open is returning here,” he said.
“I am looking forward to playing it so much because I love links golf. The 3 Irish Open is one of the oldest tournaments on The European Tour and I would love to win at Baltray. Returning to links golf after a couple of months in America where I played courses like Augusta and Doral will be a test but it’s a test I’m relishing.”
The unique challenge of Baltray should offer an advantage to those Irish players in the field who have honed their games along Ireland’s rugged coastlines, none more so than McGinley, who was a junior member at County Louth; and Gary Murphy, who has lived a par five distance from the golf course since 2001.
But there is also a host of the game’s great and gifted on site looking to following in the footsteps of defending champion Richard Finch. Included in that number are Major Champions John Daly, Paul Lawrie and José Maria Olazábal, who will be joined by Ryder Cup Captain Colin Montgomerie, as well other men from the top 50 in the world such as Ross Fisher, Miguel Angel Jiménez, Søren Kjeldsen, Lee Westwood and Oliver Wilson.
Westwood is hoping for a victory that would see the Englishman add Ireland’s national Open title to his pair of European Open successes on the Emerald Isle.
“I’ve gone very close in The Irish Open in the past so it’s one I would love to win,” he said. “Obviously I have had successes there in the past with The Ryder Cup and the European Open so winning The 3 Irish Open would make me love the place even more. I was tied third in The Irish Open last year and have been second before so it would be great to one better.
“I have heard a lot about Baltray and I’m looking forward to going there. The Irish Open is a tournament that you just feel should be on a links course. Ireland has so many great links courses, they deserve to be used for a tournament as big as The 3 Irish Open.
“It’s incredible to have a sponsor like 3 behind the tournament given the financial situation that the world is in at the moment. I am delighted that they are supporting The European Tour – they deserve a lot of credit for getting behind us.”
Australian Brett Rumford, winner of the 2004 Irish Open at Baltray, is relishing the opportunity to return to the scene of his greatest victory.
“It was an amazing week,” recalled Rumford. “I can remember the weather being fairly benign up until Saturday but after that it got really tough. I remember it has the toughest par threes on any course I have played but if your short game is on, there are a lot of birdies to be had if you get the ball in play.
“It was a great party after I won. I’m a non drinker but there was a massive street party that night leading from the club up to Gary Murphy’s house! It was a really fantastic atmosphere and I enjoyed it because I was sober enough to remember it!”