The Irish Open was first played in 1927, at Portmarnock Golf Club. It was won by a Scot, George Duncan, who beat the famous English golfer and golf course designer, Henry Cotton. In all, 14 major champions have won the event: Seve, Langer and Faldo each won it three times; Woosnam won it twice, and Crenshaw, Olazabal and Pádraig Harrington have a single win to their credit. That number may well rise in 2016, as US Masters winner Danny Willett, and Rory McIlroy will be hotly tipped. Rory is also the most fancied to add to Ireland’s six victories in the event, adding to the wins of Harry Bradshaw in 1947 and 1949, Christy O’Connor Jnr in 1975, John O’Leary in 1982, Pádraig Harrington in 2007, and Shane Lowry in 2009.
When Sergio Garcia sank his final putt in a stunning round of 64 at Druid’s Glen, in 1999, he became the youngest ever winner of the Irish Open. He was 19 years and 176 days old. It was his first professional win after turning professional a few weeks before, after competing as an amateur at the US Masters. He is also the 6th youngest European Tour winner ever, behind Italian Matteo Manassero, who holds the record at 17 years and 188 days. Manassero will be making his fifth appearance at the Irish Open this year… at the ripe old age of 23. Incidentally, the youngest competitor this week will be 19-year-old Renato Paratore… another Italian. If Renato wins, he would beat Sergio’s record by three days.
At the opposite end of the scale, our very own – and recently departed – Christy O’Connor Snr is the oldest Irish Open winner. He won the Carrolls in 1972, aged 47 and 187 days. It is also worth mentioning ‘Himself’ is the third oldest player ever to make a European Tour cut, when he qualified for the final two rounds in the 1989 Irish Open, at Portmarnock. He was 64 years and 184 days old.
There’s something about the number 10. In Irish Open history, Nick Faldo has the most top 10 finishes of any golfer… something he achieved 10 times. Twice he was a runner-up at Portmarnock, a golf course which hosted the Irish Open 10 times. Of those 10 times, Ian Woosnam won it twice with a score of -10. The year before, also at Portmarnock, Bernard Langer won by a margin of 10 strokes from Sandy Lyle. This remains the largest winning margin in Irish Open history. Both Seve Ballesteros (Royal Dublin, 1985) and Richard Finch (Adare, 2008) also won on scores of -10.
2009 was set to be a thrilling year for Irish golf. On the back of Pádraig Harrington’s three Major wins in 2007 and 2008, and his 2007 Irish Open victory, hopes were high that there would be another home winner at the Irish Open. There was… but it came from the most unlikely of quarters as amateur Shane Lowry won on a wet and windy day at Co. Louth. His rounds of 67, 62, 71, 71 saw him finish in a tie with Robert Rock. In their sudden-death play-off they played the 18th three times before Shane prevailed. His victory was only the third time an amateur had won in European Tour history. In 2016, there will be three Irish amateurs attempting to emulate Shane: Colm Campbell (Warrenpoint), Jack Hume (Naas), and John-Ross Galbraith (Whitehead).
Shane’s 62 on the second day at Co. Louth would have been a course record, but he was beaten to it by a 61… scored by Graeme McDowell. GMac’s -11 contained one bogey, 10 birdies and an eagle. It was and remains an Irish Open record and only a shot shy of The European Tour’s lowest ever round.
The Irish Open has been held on Killarney Golf Club’s Killeen course on four occasions. In 1991 and 1992 the event was won by Nick Faldo. By 2006, the course had received a considerable upgrade by Donald Steel, which added length, new greens and tees. The Irish Open returned to the Co. Kerry club and was won by Simon Dyson in 2010, and Ross Fisher in 2011. What is significant about these three Irish Open winners? They’re all English golfers.
In 2002, the Irish Open was played at Fota Island. After four days there were four men (Soren Hansen, Richard Bland, Niclas Fasth, Darren Fichardt) tied at the top of the leaderboard on the score of –14. After playing four holes, Hansen sank a 12 foot birdie putt for the win. It is the only time the Irish Open has had a four-way sudden death play-off and it was Dane Soren Hansen’s first European Tour title. In its history, the Irish Open has been decided 12 times by a play-off – a European Tour record.
It is fitting in the year Ireland has lost several golfing greats, including Christy O’Connor Jnr, we can reflect on his 1975 Irish Open victory at Woodbrook. His 275 equated to a score of -21, the lowest four day Irish Open total ever achieved. He was a wire-to-wire winner with rounds of 66, 70, 69 and 70. Coincidentally, the highest winning score was recorded by none other than John O’Leary, at Portmarnock in 1982. His 287 came to a score of -1, which just pips Soren Kjeldsen’s score of -2 at a windy Royal County Down last year.
A mishmash of trivia: There’s something about the number four, too. There have been four wire-to-wire winners: Christy O’Connor Jnr at Woodbook, 1975; Bernhard Langer at Portmarnock, 1987; Nick Faldo at Killarney, 1992; and Colin Montgomerie at Fota Island, 2001. Four players have recorded the largest final round come back, making up a deficit of four shots: Bernhard Langer, Nick Faldo, Stephen Dodd and Paul Casey.
Five players have played all four rounds in the 60s: Sergio Garcia, Druid’s Glen, 1999; Colin Montgomerie, Fota Island, 2001; Soren Hansen, Fota Island, 2002; Jamie Donaldson, Royal Portrush, 2012; and Bernhard Langer who has achieved the feat twice - Royal Dublin in 1984 and Portmarnock in 1987. Little wonder that he was seen as the perfect choice to design Portmarnock Links.
The K Club has already hosted major events and tasted considerable Irish success in the process. During the European Open (held here between 1995 and 2007), Darren Clarke won in 2001, by three shots. Pádraig Harrington was one of three runners up that year. And Darren’s presence in the 2006 Ryder Cup team was unforgettable. There’s no doubt his inclusion on the team stirred up passions to deliver one of the greatest European wins (score: 18.5-9.5) ever seen. Darren’s record was 3-0, while Harrington and McGinley also represented the European team.
The K Club is celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2016, and what better way to celebrate than by hosting the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, alongside The Rory Foundation.
This year’s event will be the richest Irish Open ever, with prize money of €4million on offer.
That’s an increase of 60% from last year’s fund of €2.5 million at Royal Co Down.
In 2016, 21 Irish and Northern Irish golfers will be vying for the Irish Open title. The question on everybody’s lips is: will one of them claim the trophy?