“I just can’t believe how good this course is,” he stated. “It’s not just one of the best in Ireland, it’s one of the best in the world. I’m not one for raving about golf courses, but for me this is superb in just about every way. It’s not alone good enough for an Irish Open, it has everything you would require for a world championship.”
McGinley has arrived in Co Limerick all set to defend the Irish PGA championship he won for a third time in appalling conditions at Westport last year. It looks as if the circumstances are going to be a lot more favourable on this occasion and there was hardly a puff of wind yesterday when Finian Dwyer, attached to the Celbridge Driving Range, and Headfort professional Brendan McGovern, both shot four under par rounds of 68.
The tournament proper begins today with 137,000 in prize money at stake and 21,000 going to the winner. McGinley is obviously the warm favourite, now that Padraig Harrington has withdrawn but prefers to look at his absence in a different light: “I suppose it makes it easier for me, but in terms of the tournament, it would have been great to have him here. That’s the bigger picture. The Irish PGA would have benefited greatly if he had been here and there’s no point in me being selfish about it. I’m certainly not blaming Padraig or criticising him. I’ve been down that road myself, although the three kids we’ve had were well timed, two in November and one in March.”
Important and all as the Irish Championship might be, it pales in comparison with the European Tour, especially because the battle for 2004 Ryder Cup points begins this week. Cynics might suggest that McGinley is competing largely because he is tournament professional at The K-Club which is owned by the Smurfit organisation. His response is firm and sensible: “The date suits me and that’s the biggest prerequisite. I never play Switzerland anyway. Also, I’m the defending champion and have won the title three times. I’m very patriotic and very Irish, I love playing Dunhill Cups and World Cups, Irish Opens, European Opens and IPGA Championships. What I like about the PGA is that I come to places I wouldn’t play unless there was a tournament there, like Adare this year, Westport last year.”
Ironically, there is a body of opinion that holds Westport 2002 was the beginning of lean times for McGinley. It came immediately on the heels of his first US Masters and the Seve Trophy in awful weather at Druids Glen. If anything, the elements in Westport were worse and the championship, in fact, was decided over 54 holes.
“I certainly don’t blame Westport,” McGinley insisted. “Had I gone there and played poorly, you could say that’s when I started to swing the club badly. But I didn’t. I won there. It’s just that I played average after that. Shoot one or two under par and the chances are you will miss the cut. Sure, there was the Ryder Cup. What I proved there was that I could perform under exceptional conditions, but it didn’t prove that my game was back. I didn’t play spectacularly, although I was really steady.
“What I did in the Ryder Cup was to play fantastic in the conditions. It wasn’t that I played great and went back to mediocrity afterwards.
“This year has been a little different. I’ve actually played some great golf tee to green and not scored well. It’s not that I’m putting badly, it’s more that I haven’t had a hot spell.”
It could be that this week will kickstart things for McGinley who still has his eye very much on next year’s Ryder Cup team and, accordingly, will keep himself busy and active on the European Tour in the coming weeks.