Future remains clouded by lack of biggest stars

The title sponsor that Pádraig Harrington says he has up his sleeve, and anyone who may be contemplating pumping millions into the Irish Open prize fund, will not have been enthused by the leaderboard in Maynooth yesterday.

It would be extremely difficult to convince top business figures to dip deeply into their pockets to support a tournament led by Belgian Joost Luiten and closely pursued by the likes of Pablo Larrazabal of Spain, Englishman Robert Rock, Scotland’s Scott Henry and another Spaniard, Alvaro Quiros.

Of the leading five two-balls on the course, only Casey had played in the Ryder Cup and even his star was on the wane after a series of setbacks until his excellent revival at Carton House.

Over 20,000 came through the gates on Saturday, most of them intent on following and supporting local hero Shane Lowry, but when he faltered early on, much of the buzz dissipated appreciably.

Even so, the public interest in the event remains almost as constant as ever, with more than 40,000 present over the weekend.

While they were understandably disappointed at the failure of Ireland’s ‘the big four’ to stay the 72 holes, there were compensatory factors, most notably the presence of Jose-Maria Olazabal at the head of affairs well into the final round, 23 years after his victory at Portmarnock in 1990. His support for the Irish Open has never wavered — and after this week’s experience, the certainty is that it never will. If only a reasonable percentage of other big name golfers felt the same...

It’s not so long ago that Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer, Nick Faldo and Colin Montgomerie, all three-time champions, and Ian Woosnam and Olazabal came to Ireland as a matter of form.

Sadly, with the exception of Ollie, those days are long gone.

While last year’s event at Royal Portrush set all kinds of records and was a monumental success in many different ways, Jamie Donaldson emerged as champion on a final afternoon singularly lacking in atmosphere.

Mention of that vital ingredient brings us nicely to the weekend. With McIlroy, Harrington, McDowell and Clarke having all fallen by the wayside and Lowry succumbing to the inevitable pressure, the Irish fans got little or nothing to shout about on Saturday afternoon.

Once Lowry finished with a disappointing 74 to fall back into the pack, there was hardly a ripple of excitement or cheer worthy of the name.

McIlroy and McDowell hung around to sign autographs and to be photographed with fans, something that was favourably commented upon, but the former’s tweet later in the day “can’t wait to get home to Monaco tomorrow to sun, sea and practice with Caroline Wozniacki” undid for many any good those gestures might have done.

Because the Irish Open is no longer graced by players of the calibre of Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose, Luke Donald and the like, the onus falls on the home contingent to inject the necessary excitement.

Their failure to do so at Carton House and, to an extent, at Portrush 12 months earlier has to be bad news for the ongoing search for a generous sponsor.

The good news, though, is that the fans desperately want it to continue, with Lowry confident a move to the adjacent O’Meara Course at Carton will make for a far more atmospheric event in 2014.

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