When does it all begin?
IT’S ALREADY STARTED actually. The 57th Irish Open got underway at 7.30am this morning with Ballymena amateur Dermot McElroy in the opening group alongside George Murray of Scotland and South Africa’s Keith Horne.
For the early birds at Royal Portrush, some of the tournament’s big names are already out on course. Local hero Graeme McDowell and three-time major winner Padraig Harrington got their challenge underway alongside last year’s winner Simon Dyson at 7.50am.
Why is it being hosted by Royal Portrush?
The County Antrim course is one of the most picturesque, challenging settings for links golf in Ireland. Designed by the famous Harry Colt, Royal Portrush has hosted the Irish Open on three occasions in the past — in 1930, 1937 and 1947.
Following the success of McDowell, Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke in winning their maiden major titles, a movement began to bring the Open Championship back to a course which last hosted it in 1951. With Portrush preparing to celebrate its 125th anniversary next year the timing couldn’t be more appropriate, and a successful event this weekend would go a long way towards persuading the Open organisers to give it the honour.
Who are the big names playing this week?
Where do you start? Irish golf’s four big stars — McDowell, McIlroy, Clarke and Harrington — are all there as is another current major holder, 2011 USPGA champion Keegan Bradley. On top of that, there are another five major winners in the field with Jose Maria Olazabal, John Daly, Michael Campbell, Rich Beem and Paul Lawrie all taking part.
How does the betting look?
Punters and bookies are heavily in favour of those players with local knowledge of the tricky Dunluce Links course. Current world number two Rory McIlroy shot Portrush’s course record of 61 as a 16-year-old amateur during the North of Ireland Championship back in 2005; combine that with his current status and it’s easy to see why he’s the 7/1 favourite. Graeme McDowell is 10/1 to take the spoils in his home club as is Padraig Harrington, who has shown glimpses of a return to old with fine form at the US Open and the Traveler’s Championship in recent weeks. Last year’s winner Simon Dyson is 28/1 to retain his title.
Can I still buy tickets?
No. For the first time ever in the European Tour’s history, the event is a total sell-out and tournament organisers have stressed that fans should not show up without tickets as there will be none available on the gate. An estimated 27,000 spectators are expected on course for each of the next four days.
Where can I watch it so?
There will be plenty of TV coverage over the next four days — and fortunately, you won’t need a Sky Sports subscription to tune in. RTÉ One’s coverage begins at 11.15am today and tomorrow and at 1.30pm for the final two rounds on Saturday and Sunday. Coverage on Sky begins at 10am (Thursday and Friday), 1.3opm (Saturday) and 12.30pm (Sunday).