This time last year Jamie Donaldson had not won on The European Tour, but 12 months on he arrives at Carton House as the defending Irish Open Champion.
The Welshman started last year at Royal Portrush in ideal fashion with a hole in one on the par three sixth, and his week got better and better en route to an impressive closing 66 and a four shot victory over a trio of quality players.
Since then Donaldson has also added Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship glory to his résumé after an impressive display in the desert that saw him hold off the likes of Thorbjørn Olesen and recent US Open Champion Justin Rose by a stroke.
That win saw him jump up to 29th in the Official World Golf Ranking, and having earned his place in the world’s elite top 50, he returns to Carton House as a different player and a strong contender this week on a course that is set up a little easier than seven years ago, when the event was last held at the Maynooth venue.
“It’s great to be back in Ireland,” admitted Donaldson. “It’s also great to be back at Carton House as it’s a great golf course and it is set up very well. It's favouring lower scoring than last time I came here too, so I'm slightly happier about that, as the rough is not as brutal as it was.
“Reflecting on Portrush, it was a very special week for me. To play in front of 130,000 people through the gates during the week, massive crowds on what was a tough and fantastic golf course, Portrush, and to have a hole-in-one at the start of the week was pretty amazing. It was a Cinderella story, wasn't it.”
Donaldson missed the cut the last two times the Irish Open was held on the Montgomerie Course at Carton House, but in the seven years since the defending champion has clearly matured as a player, and as such, is confident of putting up a stern defence.
He said: “My record's not that good the two times I've been here before, but I wasn't as good a golfer as I am now the last time I came here. What's important is the fact that I'm playing well now and looking forward to it.
“I can see last time I came here that I wasn't seeing the shots, now I can see them and I'm playing them, which is very important. It will be a good week.”
The defending champion gets his defence underway alongside Irishmen Padraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell from the first at 12.50pm on Thursday, in what promises to be one of the marquee three balls of the day.