Irish quintet fighting for Euro Tour survival at Vilamoura

It is a case of ‘Last Chance Saloon’ for all but two of the seven Irish golfers contesting this week’s Portugal Masters at Vilamoura.

Irish quintet fighting for Euro Tour survival at Vilamoura

Pádraig Harrington, Darren Clarke, Michael Hoey, Damien McGrane, Peter Lawrie, Kevin Phelan and Paul Dunne tee up this morning on the Victoria course on the sun-splashed Algarve.

Harrington languishes in 121st place on the Race to Dubai but neither he nor Clarke have any concerns about Tour membership.

But the other five will feel pressure this week. Hoey is 10 places outside the top 75 qualifiers for the Final Series Turkish Airlines Open and needs to finish inside the top six this week.

McGrane, lying 168th on the Race to Dubai, could wave goodbye to the Tour after making his debut in 1995 if he does not finish top two.

“I’m 45 years of age, getting older and greyer, and unlike previous years, it no longer bothers me if I don’t retain my Tour card,” he said.

“I’ve had a great career out here and having played with Paul Dunne on Tuesday, he’s the future of the European Tour.”

Lawrie is again competing on an invitation, the last of 16 he’s been fortunate to receive.

All but two invitations have been from tournament sponsors, which reflects his popularity with those putting up the prize money.

But at 123rd on the money list, and a dozen places short of the cut-off mark, he needs to finish inside the top eight, in what would be a first top 10 this season in 27 events.

“I came here last year in this same situation thinking it would be the end of the world if I didn’t do well, and that seriously affected the way I played,” he said.

“But this year I realised it is not the end of the world and there is life somewhere after losing your Tour card.

“So I will approach this week the best I can and try and smile my way through it, so if I can get my head out of the way, I feel I should be okay.”

Phelan is a very late Portugal entry, taking the place of England’s Eddie Pepperell who withdrew with a back complaint, and at 126th on the Race to Dubai, he needs to finish top seven.

Dunne has pocketed €87,023 by making the cut in his two pro career events but knows only too well that unless he can muscle his way to first or second, then it is back to the Tour School for the Greystones golfer. “The last two weeks have been great but they’re useless if I can finish it off this week and get my Tour card,” he said.

Meanwhile Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose are among the players starting the new PGA Tour season this week, at the Frys.com Open. McIlroy, Rose and major winners Charl Schwartzel and Webb Simpson are all in action.

IRISH TEE TIMES:

Michael Hoey (8.10am), Kevin Phelan (8.30am), Damien McGrane (9.20am), Paul Dunne (8.50am), Padraig Harrington (1.10pm), Darren Clarke (1.20pm). Peter Lawrie (1.40pm).

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