"THE Irish Open has regained its status as one of the premier events on the European Tour."
That was the ringing endorsement from Paul McGinley in Killarney last night as he rejoiced at the huge success of the championship over the past four days. Fellow Ryder Cup assistant captain Darren Clarke concurred, with both men urging title sponsors 3 to bring the event back to the Killeen Course next year.
"Overall, it’s been a great week, a great venue, terrific golf course, a great town, great crowds, very good pint of Guinness, the championship is back where it belongs," enthused McGinley.
"There’s been a carnival atmosphere and buzz and players and caddies have had a ball and I think it would be great to see it coming back next year. I think the course is strong enough. Nothing needs to be altered. They don’t need to start putting in new tees, all they need to bring in is a little bit of rough and all of a sudden the scoring will be down around eight or nine under, which is what you want. That gives a good balance between guys making birdies and guys making bogeys."
On a personal basis, McGinley was quite happy with a decent performance which saw him finish in a share of 14th worth €43,200, although a bogey at the 18th that completed an inward two over left a sour taste.
"That’s the best I’ve finished all year and it’s good to be in contention again," said McGinley. "It’s been a very barren season since I came back after injury. I was out for five months and haven’t been able to raise a gallop at all. It was nice to play a lot of good golf this week but a little bitter not to get a top 10 but there is a lot to build on. I’m looking forward to leaving the rubbish I’ve played up to this week behind me and turn it into a very good year."
Donning his Ryder Cup hat, McGinley was also delighted Pádraig Harrington showed good form.
"I think he’s a lockdown for the team after this and I’ll be very surprised and disappointed if he isn’t there," said McGinley.
Darren Clarke, who tied for 12th and picked up €49,950, echoed McGinley’s comments and was still in good heart in spite of closing with two bogeys for the second day in a row. He insisted there were a lot of positives and that he was really pleased with the state of his game. However, it was when discussing his week in Kerry that he really came alive.
"The venue has been fantastic," he declared. "I really hope they decide to stay here for another couple of years. Killarney has come out on top. A lot of people said – maybe myself included – thought the guys would take it apart, 20 under, but it hasn’t happened. It’s been a huge success. The rough has not been so bad so the guys have had a go at it. But if they get the wrong side of the pins, they have no chance of making birdies. It’s been hugely positive.
"The players love it. Because of the convenience of all the hotels right beside the location, you can have a relaxing time. If you’re partial to the odd pint, there are plenty of places to go. And if you don’t, you’ve got the Hotel Europe which has been fantastic.
"There are a lot of guys who are not here and guys have their schedules set out but I think we had a strong field this week. Let’s hope they do come because 3 have put in a huge prize fund and they have a fantastic venue."
In the end, it didn’t quite work out for defending champion Shane Lowry but the big man from Clara, Co Offaly, wore his customary broad smile as he admitted that in yesterday’s closing 72: "I made a few silly mistakes going at pins and that’s what you have to do on Sunday when you’re that far back. I didn’t come here for a top 10, I was going out there to try and win.
"Going down 18 in front of all those people, I said to my caddie Dermot, it doesn’t get much better than this. It was a bit of a thrill and equal to the Open at St Andrews and when I made a 15 foot putt on the 18th for birdie just put the icing on the cake." Lowry closed with a 72 for five under to tie 21st worth €32,550.
The championship ended on a disappointing note for Damien McGrane who started with a 65 on Thursday but for whom little went right subsequently. He closed yesterday with a 70 for two under to finish in a share of 35th with Rory McIlroy. They earned €21,600.
Other Irish prize money: Pádraig Harrington, 2nd, €333,330. Michael Hoey, 7th, €90,000. Graeme McDowell, 31st, €24,450. Barrie Trainor, 66th, €6,450.