Ireland’s Major winners set their sights on Royal Portrush victory
Irish Open crosses border to fanfare and great expectations
At last it is here — a major sporting event where Ireland can compete at the highest international level.
This is an occasion where singing is banned - at least until the final ball has been played.
The 2012 Irish Open golf championship is upon us and for once, this is a level playing field as far as the boys in green - and on the greens - are concerned.
Forget the Euros and the 60-0 defeat in New Zealand last Saturday, golf is the one sport where Ireland can rule the world.
Events this week on the stunning Antrim coastline may prove that but this Irish Open is about a bit more than that.
It is the first time since 1953 the championship has drifted north of a border that does not exist for Irish golf.
It is a first ever sell-out for a regular European Tour event, a dry run for the Open that Royal Portrush would love to host again - and deserves to.
It is also redemption time for the likes of Pádraig Harrington, Darren Clarke, Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell as they look to serve a notice of intention three weeks before the British Open at Lytham.
For Clarke, out for a month with a groin injury, this will be a glorious homecoming as the Open champion.
It presents another chance for McIlroy to return to top spot in the world on a course where he almost broke 60 — as a teenager!
For McDowell, he can go one step better than he did at the US Open last and this time on a course he grew up on.
Harrington has the chance to prove to Irish fans he is back to his Major winning best on his favourite course in the world.
A fortnight ago, as he almost snatched a play-off place at the US Open, Harri had that final-day steely look in his eyes in San Francisco.
When a journalist asked his caddy how he was playing on that given Sunday, Ronan Flood just smiled. That said it all.
Harri said: “I’m happy with my game. I had a chance going down the last at the US Open and I felt good about it.
“I missed a few chances and I got a few chances. I feel like I could have easily been a number of shots better.”
Harri will feel at home on his return to Portrush.
He said: “There are a lot of things which make Portrush so special.
“It’s a very fair test of golf - if you hit good shots, you’ll be rewarded with birdies. But hit bad ones and you’ll run up bogeys or double bogeys. You always feel you can make a score round there.
“With the quality of the field, winning certainly won’t be easy.”
Fresh from some tennis spotting with girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki, McIlroy is also excited by the Portrush prospect.
He said: “I haven’t played competitively at Royal Portrush since 2005, so to go back there and have the chance to win my national Open is very important to me.
“The course holds great memories for me, from watching my dad play in the North of Ireland there as a toddler to playing in it myself as a 15-year-old and shooting a course record 61.
“The rescheduling of the Irish Open to late June is also a great plus, given that the Open Championship takes place three weeks later.”
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