OVER 100,00o people are expected to go through the gates at this week’s Irish Open with an exciting array of players to compete.
The event, which will be staged at the Royal Portrush Golf Club in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, has smashed European Tour records with tickets for the final three days of the tournament completely sold out.
Ulstermen Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke will be well-supported throughout the event, while the likes of Pádraig Harrington and 2011 PGA Championship winner Keegan Bradley are also headline attractions.
With the British Open less than a month away, gaining form is vital for the field and McIlroy and Clarke are two that need to find some good touch more than most.
McIlroy is still ranked number two in the world despite missing the cut in four of his past five tournaments, while Clarke will enter the event without having played in a month due to a groin strain. The 2011 British Open winner remains confident that the event will have a local winner though.
“I’m sure, come Sunday, you’ll see two or three Irish players up there,” said Clarke, who has dropped to 81st in the world rankings.
“I have no doubt. The course is going to play firm and fast and it will bring a little more local knowledge into it.”
McDowell enters the tournament with plenty of experience of the course, having played there several times in his youth. And after finishing in a tie for second at the US Open earlier this month, something McDowell does have is good form.
Harrington — who won the tournament in 2007 — has also impressed recently, despite being ranked 69th, finishing in a tie for fourth at the US Open and narrowly missing out on a top-10 berth at last week’s Travelers Championship.
Bradley has not been at his best in recent times, without a top-20 finish since early April, but alongside Scot Paul Lawrie, Italian Francesco Molinari, Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts and Englishman Simon Dyson, he is sure to present a challenge to the local contingent.
Dyson won the event in 2011 and three of the past four events — Ross Fisher (2010), Richard Finch (2008) — have been won by English players. Another competitor from England, Danny Willett, will enter the tournament in good form after edging Australian Marcus Fraser in a four-hole playoff at the BMW International Open in Cologne last week.