Evergreen Paul just having fun

Paul McGinley is in his 46th year, 25 of which he has spent as a professional golfer, so he knows full well how ill-advised it would be to take anything for granted.

However, a series of outstanding performances in recent weeks — he has been third, sixth, 33rd and seventh in his last four tournament appearances — put the Dubliner in the best possible frame of mind heading for Portrush this week and yet another appearance in the Irish Open.

With 15 holes of yesterday’s second round completed, he was within touching distance of the leaders before running up bogeys at the short seventh and the par five ninth, where he four-putted from off the front edge of the green. True to form, though, he gritted his teeth and found several positives to reflect on from his two rounds over a links on which he was twice a beaten finalist in the North of Ireland in his amateur days.

“You never know in this game but I’m certainly having fun”, he mused after a round of 69 left him five under par for the 36 holes and safely through to the weekend. “It’s great to be back in contention again after two years when obviously I struggled and there’s a great sense of excitement about my game and my golf at the moment.

“Luckily it’s not a physical game like soccer or gaelic football where you’re done in your thirties. I’m able to keep going at 45. And I feel strong, I’m hitting the ball well and putting nicely and thinking well. It’s a lot of fun.”

If McGinley’s finish yesterday was frustrating, you can only imagine how he felt on slotting in a 77 in the third round in Cologne last week between 65, 70 over the first two rounds and 66 on the final day. He missed out on a play-off by a shot but he has moved on seamlessly and last night was well able to accept the outcome philosophically.

“If I shot 72 on Saturday it was unlikely I was going to shoot 66 on Sunday”, he commented. “It was a great reaction to bounce back and shoot that score having had a bad day on Saturday.

“I walked away with a big positive and a big smile on my face and it was a lot of fun. And my smile’s got even bigger when I came here and saw the crowds and the golf course. It’s great to play in front of crowds that are so big and so vociferous and pro-Irish and hopefully they can get some Irish players, if not me, to shout about.”

As we chatted, the Portrush leaderboard was becoming more and more cluttered with red figures which in turn suggested that the R&A might well have been casting a jaundiced eye on the Co. Antrim links as a potential Open Championship venue. McGinley, however, rubbished such an idea.

“I think the R&A see the bigger picture” he maintained. “The big picture is how the town of Portrush has been able to handle such a big event with record crowds. The other big picture is the quality of the golf course. Virtually nothing has been done to this course in the 50 years or more since a pro tournament was last played here and obviously the technology is completely different to what it was back then. If the Open was to come here, there’s the need to put in a few new tee boxes, and add some fairway bunkers. And it has so much potential.

“In my opinion, great golf courses need fun and that’s why I love Portrush so much. Yes, there are tough holes but it also gives you opportunities and it is important that any changes are in keeping with Harry Colt’s design, because this is an absolute gem.”

Nor would he admit to surprise at how low the scoring has been over the last two days, stressing that all the rain has softened up the course when instead it would be a whole lot tougher should the ball be running and bouncing in unpredictable directions. And he added: “I know exactly how good professional golfers are, I see it every week, the cuts amaze me how low they are, never mind the winning score. That’s the quality we have on the European Tour now and people will be saying, ‘well, we don’t recognise too many people on the leaderboard’. But I tell you, go watch them play golf, because those guys can really play.”

The presence of relatively little-known players like Gregory Bourdy and Lorenzo Gagli at the head of affairs affirmed McGinley’s point.

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