Killarney won’t face any bill for Irish Open

MEMBERS of Killarney Golf & Fishing Club who feared the withdrawal of 3 as sponsors of the Irish Open would set the club back €1 million can rest easy.

General manager Maurice O’Meara last night assured members this was not the case.

While the club will be making all of its facilities available to the European Tour for the championship, to be played over the Killeen Course next August weekend, they will not be making any financial contribution.

O’Meara said: “This is a small town and you’re always going to have rumours but we don’t have that kind of money. Even if we did, I don’t think we’d be sponsoring the Irish Open.

“There is a lot of bar talk. Recently, we removed the ‘3’ from the big Irish Open sign on the front of the 18th tee and people immediately decided that a sponsor had been found. So far, though, that is not the case.

“Sponsorship is a matter for the players. As far as we are concerned, it’s full speed ahead in having everything right for the end of July. We had a lot of snow during the winter but nothing like the storms that battered the course last year and the growth is now starting, so everything is going nicely on that front.

“The town is behind us again and we are confident that the summer festival that provided such a great family atmosphere last year will again be held at the same time. And many people who couldn’t be here then have told us they won’t miss it on this occasion so we expect to cater for big crowds once again.”

Disappointingly, I understand the Tour has made little progress in their quest for a title sponsor to replace 3.

A spokesman told me several of the companies they have been in touch with were genuinely supportive of the idea and in normal circumstances would love to become involved.

But these are not normal times and the definite possibility is that the event will go ahead with a prize fund not far in excess of €1m. And he readily admitted such a purse for a tournament of the prestige of the Irish Open, at the height of the season, is far from satisfactory. Last year, the pros played for a total of €3m.

NOT since Colin Montgomerie dominated the European scene throughout the 1990s has Scottish golf had a whole lot to shout about. However, that situation was rectified in emphatic fashion at the weekend when Paul Lawrie captured the Andalucia Open in Malaga and Martin Laird followed up with a highly impressive victory in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in Orlando. Prior to Bay Hill, Laird was the highest ranked Scot in the world in 40th place but he has now jumped 19 spots to 21st, a reward for a truly outstanding victory in Florida.

It is its own clear demonstration of how Paul Lawrie’s fortunes have plummeted that his win in Spain saw him go from 272nd in the rankings to 150th. His only other tournament successes since his Open triumph at Carnoustie in 1999 came in the Dunhill Links Championship in 2001 and the Wales Open in 2002.

The European Tour moves on this week to Agadir in Morocco for the Hassan Trophy.

The event carries a prize fund of €1.5m and has a pro-am format on the opening two days over the Robert Trent Jones-designed Golf Du Palais and Golf de l’Ocean courses before reverting to pros only over the former layout for the final 36 holes.

Welshman Rhys Davies defends in a field that contains a number of Irishmen anxious for considerable improvement on recent performances. Only Paul McGinley of the large group in Malaga actually made the cut and he lines out again in Morocco along with Shane Lowry, Darren Clarke, Peter Lawrie, Damien McGrane and Michael Hoey.

The Lalla Meryem tournament on the Ladies European Tour (LET) also takes place in Agadir this week with German Anja Monke defending. This is the first time that a European Tour and LET events have taken place in the same city in the same week.

It was also a disappointing week in the States for the Irish given that, for once, Graeme McDowell, couldn’t cope with an off-colour game resulting in a first round 80 that rendered participation beyond the halfway stage at Bay Hill impossible. McDowell, who remains fourth in the world rankings, takes this week off as he prepares for the Masters, starting on Thursday week. Rory McIlroy is also inactive in a competitive sense and so will have gone three weeks without a tournament appearance when he tees it up at Augusta National.

After a week at home during which he opened the delightful Harrington room at his home club, Stackstown, Pádraig Harrington is back in the US for this week’s Shell Houston Open at the Redstone. Although his results this year have been a big disappointment and he is out to 36th in the world rankings, the 39-year-old Dubliner continues to maintain his game is just where he wants it to be, and the changes in his swing are about to pay dividends. Padraig’s fans would dearly love to see a demonstration of this sooner rather than later.

The field for the $5.9m (€4.1m) Houston event also includes England’s Lee Westwood, another who is in need of a big performance if he is to remain the number two-ranked golfer in the world rankings, and Phil Mickelson, who has also been surprisingly quiet so far in this year’s campaign.

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