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Friday, 19 March 2010
The Masters - Preview Day 2  (Getty Images)
The Masters - Preview Day 2 (Getty Images)

Padraig Harrington has described The 3 Irish Open as “my fifth Major of the year” ahead of the event at Baltray on Thursday.

Harrington has won The Open Championship twice and the US PGA Championship but the Irishman says his home event remains important.

Harrington won the event at Adare Manor in 2007 but is delighted to see it return to County Louth Golf Club for the first time since 2004.

“Obviously the Irish Open is my fifth Major of the year, and so that has to be considered a very important event,” said Harrington.

“I have one under my belt already. I'm looking forward to the week and I'm looking forward to playing golf - I obviously have to stay a little bit relaxed about it. There's a lot of stress involved in playing in your national open and a lot of things happening, so your preparation would not be ideal, but that's okay.”

World Number Eight Harrington expects a tough examination of his game at the Baltray course, with wind and rain likely to make for testing conditions on the Emerald Isle.

“The course is excellent. It really is a good test, and a good golf course to come to for an Irish Open,” he continued.

“There will be opportunities out there but there's also a lot of difficulty on the course. And with the weather being mixed during the week you'll find that you have to make your birdies when you get your opportunities on some of those par fives. And you'll have to work hard on some of the par fours - if we do get it rain, there's going to be times out there that it's going to be about making some hard core pars and other times you have to make the birdies.

“So it's going to be a mixed bag this week and I think you're going to have to adjust and get the job done. It won't be all plain sailing, that's for sure.

“For the event, I'd love it from a professional standpoint, I would love it to get back to what it was maybe in the 80s or early 90s, to have a standing on The European Tour that all of the players love coming and wanting to play in The Irish Open. I do believe 3 can move it to that, I think sponsorship wise it is a good move and it's a big move.”

Another local favourite hoping to enjoy a succesful week is 20 year old Rory McIlroy.

The Northern Irishman has burst onto The European Tour scene in the last year, with his maiden win coming at the Dubai Desert Classic.

And McIlroy agrees with Harrington that the course is in pristine condition.

“Baltray is a great golf course, and I've played East of Ireland here and never managed to win, but it's a great golf course,” said McIlroy. “It's a great layout and you have to have all of the shots - It should be a great week.

“Every Irish Open, it's a great atmosphere and the crowds come out to see golf. The Irish golf crowd are very knowledgeable as well, so I suppose apart from the Majors and maybe the World Golf Championships, this is high up there.

“I mean, everyone said last week that the Players Championship is the fifth major, but this is a lot more important to me than that.”

Half of last year’s European Ryder Cup Team are in the field, including McIlroy’s compatriot Graeme McDowell.

The 29 year old is an ambassador for sponsors 3 and is relishing The European Tour’s retuurn to his homeland.

“It’s obviously great to have a sponsor like 3 on board in the current environment, no doubt about it,” he said.

“You know, not that the tournament needed rescue, but great to have a sponsor like 3 on board who have booked the event for three years and at a great venue here and obviously put up a lot of money and great effort and given the tournament a lot of support.

“It's been fun to be one of 3's ambassadors and obviously help out with promotional work and help them to promote an event, which obviously is pretty close to my heart and an event which I believe deserves an important spot and to be recognised as one of the top events in Europe, because historically it's been a great event and needs to be reinstated to that kind of prestige on The Tour.”

Richard Finch goes into the week as defending champion - but his victory is remembered by many for his falling into the water after playing his approach at the 18th as much as the scintillating golf that landed him the title.

“Although it's a title defence, it is quite a different event in a lot of ways from last year,” said the Englishman.

“Obviously completely different golf course rather than sort of the inland course - this is obviously a links course. Different, but I'm looking forward to it.

“A lot of the lads, especially caddies, have nicknames connected with the incident: Splash, all sorts of little ones here and there. It's all good, I don't mind that one at all.”

American John Daly will be looking to continue his resurgence on the links of Baltray.

The 43 year old finished a creditable second in Italy last week in only his second European Tour event of the year, but Daly - sporting yet another pair of bold and bright trousers - says conditions this week mean the form book will go out the window.

“It's totally different golf,” he said. “This place is beautiful, the golf course.

“Any time you play links, it's not really the best ball striker - you've got to have some luck. You're going to have to land the ball short on a lot of these greens because they are rolling out pretty good. It's not really target golf, it's more imagination golf, which I love to play.”

 

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