The buzz around the media centre yesterday left you in no doubt as to the status of the Irish Open, with a who’s who of golf gracing the interview room in quick succession.
Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, Sergio Garcia, Rickie Fowler and company spoke in unison - stressing they were delighted to be here and relishing a chance at playing Royal Co Down’s challenging test.
Soundbites aside they will undoubtedly have noted the weather forecast for the first couple of tournament days – the winds, the plunge in temperatures and the scattered showers which will make for a serious examination of every player’s arsenal.
It was obvious that this golf course has already made a considerable impression on many of the superstars – with holes like the par 3 fourth and the tricky par 4 8th being regularly mentioned in their comments.
But what’s most interesting is the fact that the players see the lay-out challenging them in so many different ways. And that is the sign of a great course.
The superstars will have witnessed all of these conditions before, of course, and all will have finetuned their strategy before tee off time today but the beauty of links golf on a bouncy course is that the changing wind conditions can make all of that preparation redundant from one hole to the next.
Therein lies the beauty of the challenge this week. The winner will need to be able to adapt his game and shotmaking skills time and again. Patience and mental strength will be a virtue. So too will be the assured confidence in your own abilities.
So don’t be too surprised to see some wildly out of character scoring. Don’t be surprised either to hear players moaning about the unfair bounce of the ball, the unpredictable winds and the unfair shots around the green. The most competitive players will be the ones who understand that the challenge this week is less about the usual aerial route and more about the roll of a bouncing ball.
Attitude and ambition counts even more for some of the most seasoned players in the field. Sergio Garcia is a prime example of someone who has most to gain from playing with the right attitude. Indeed you could argue that if he had shown the same mental strength of Rory McIlroy or even Rickie Fowler over the years then he would already be a multiple major champion by now. This weeks course suits Sergio’s game and his creativity. We know the past Irish Open champion’s form is good but how badly is he prepared to grind this one out? Fowler and Ernie Els have all the shots and experience of links golf to win too. More importantly for them it is an opportunity for Fowler to embellish his status by winning against a high calibre field outside of America while for Els its a great opportunity to boost his confidence as well as arrest his slide down the world ranking.
That said, there is no doubt that this week’s event heavily favours an Irish win. Their local knowledge puts them on the front foot and an adoring and appreciative gallery may well pull them over the line.
Pádraig Harrington is the dark horse. His form while patchy is delivering good results at times and given the inclement weather forecast his fortunes may well rest on a good start.
What is wonderful is the fact that Rory McIlroy (with the help of Dubai Duty Free and the European Tour) has created an Irish Open that now has the foundations to grow and grow. If he performs anywhere near his ability then he might have an Irish Open title to his name come Sunday evening.
Either way, the “sold-out” Irish Open Tournament and Rory’s Charitable foundation will have already emerged as the real winners.
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