Golf’s A-list set for Killarney

THE companies that declined title sponsorship of the Irish Open must be kicking themselves given the hype and build up to next month’s tournament in Killarney.

Tour CEO George O’Grady will this week reveal a prize fund believed to be worth €2.5m with Pádraig Harrington set to join US Open champion Rory McIlroy in confirming his participation. Graeme McDowell and the holder, Ross Fisher, are set to do likewise along with several other high profile players.

When “3” withdrew support a year ahead of expectations, there were fears the tournament would not take place.

In that respect, huge praise is due to Fáilte Ireland for their early commitment to maintaining their contribution (estimated at €1m) and for the European Tour’s considerable injection of cash to ensure a worthwhile prize fund.

O’Grady can also take a bow for his efforts. He frequently refers to his Irish bloodline and more emphatically about his belief that the European Tour would be a far less attractive place without an Irish Open Championship.

Lest you believe this is just an idle comment, it should be noted there hasn’t been an English Open since 2002, a British Masters since 2008 and an European Open since 2009.

Those were three of the most prestigious events on the calendar for many years and every effort was made to keep them. Failure to do so hurt O’Grady and his dedicated team at Wentworth but should also serve as a warning to those who take this tournament for granted.

For now, though, everything is on track for Killarney on July 28-31 with a number of imaginative ideas, not least the offer to one lucky ticket purchaser of the chance to partner McIlroy in the pro-am, augmenting the likelihood of a very strong field.

The prospect of teeing it up alongside the US Open champion should guarantee some very brisk trade before the closing date of July 22 while a considerable uptake can also be expected where family season tickets at €50 is concerned, especially as children U16 are free provided they are in the company of an adult.

Subsidiary sponsors have come on board at regular intervals and must be delighted at their decision to do so. McIlroy’s presence after his exploits at Congressional (which have pushed him into 3rd spot in the world rankings) is such a massive boost that the participation of McDowell and Harrington and the others has been pushed into the background.

If anything, one of the biggest tasks facing the organisers is ensuring that as fair a chance as possible is afforded the thousands of fans who will come to see McIlroy while guaranteeing that the player himself, his partners and their caddies can go about their business without undue interference or disruption.

Given the presence of McIlroy, McDowell and Harrington at Killarney, you can only imagine the frustration of those behind this week’s French Open at the National Club in Versailles.

They boast a handsome prize fund of €3 million and a superb venue but the response from Europe’s finest has been underwhelming. Martin Kaymer is the only top ten player in the field. Otherwise the biggest international attraction is American Bubba Watson.

The Irish competitors in France are Shane Lowry, Michael Hoey, Darren Clarke, Peter Lawrie, Gareth Maybin, Damien McGrane and Paul McGinley.

Pádraig Harrington’s next competitive appearance will be in the Barclays Scottish Open at the new Castle Stuart Links near Inverness in the Scottish Highlands (July 7-10), the week before the Open Championship at Royal St Georges. If ever a player needed a big performance before the Open, it’s the three times major champion who has been in freefall inrecent months. After tying for 63rd in the Travelers tournament on the US Tour he has fallen still further to 54th in the world rankings. Rounds of 67, 69, 71 and 69 over the 6,844 yards, par 70 TPC River Highlands lay-out in Cromwell, Massachusetts, sound quite respectable in themselves — except the Dubliner finished 16 behind winner Fredrick Johanson.

Undoubtedly, the Irish performance of the weekend came from 58 year-old Des Smyth who stormed through the field with a closing 65 to win on the European Seniors Tour in the Netherlands.

He is understandably proud of the fact that he has tournament victories in five different decades and he should make for an interesting wager when the British Seniors Open takes place at Walton Heath next month. Des knows the course well having been a member of the European Ryder Cup team there back in 1981.

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