New US Open champion Angel Cabrera on Thursday starts his bid to become European Open champion as well – and only four of last year’s Ryder Cup team are able to stop him.
Despite the event being back at the K Club near Dublin, albeit on the Smurfit Course the other side of the River Liffey from their thrashing of the Americans last September, eight of Ian Woosnam’s heroes are for one reason or another not playing.
Henrik Stenson has just become a father, Luke Donald has just got married and Lee Westwood, Jose Maria Olazabal and Paul Casey are all resting injuries.
Casey pulled out on Tuesday with a bruised back muscle, while Olazabal are Westwood having knee trouble.
All three are hoping to be back to fitness in time for the Open Championship at Carnoustie in a fortnight and Olazabal and Westwood are also entered for next week’s Scottish Open at Loch Lomond.
As for Darren Clarke, Robert Karlsson and Sergio Garcia, they are due to be back in action at Loch Lomond as well.
And that leaves Padraig Harrington, Paul McGinley, Colin Montgomerie and David Howell as the cup quartet in Ireland chasing a first prize of €592,783. Plus captain Woosnam, who like Howell is only now returning from a long enforced lay-off.
Howell has had back and wrist problems and last appeared at the Players Championship in Florida nearly two months ago – for just two holes – while Woosnam has been battling post-viral fatigue syndrome and in his last tour event pulled out of the Irish Open in mid-May after one round.
Cabrera, of course, takes pride of place. He returned to Argentina to a well-earned hero’s welcome after becoming their first major champion since Roberto de Vicenzo at the 1967 Open Championship.
The 37-year-old held off Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk, first and third in the world, to triumph at Oakmont and will be excused if he has not come back down to earth even three weeks on.
Cabrera partners McGinley and Sunday’s French Open winner Graeme Storm in the first two rounds.
While he goes for the same US-European double achieved by Retief Goosen three years ago Harrington, of course, has his sights on a first Emerald Isle double after lifting the Irish Open at Adare Manor.
Defending champion is Welshman Stephen Dodd. He beat England’s Anthony Wall and Jose Manuel Lara by two a year ago, having begun the final round two behind the Spaniard.
McGinley finished fourth after an eventful week when he went to Dublin Airport on Friday thinking he had missed the halfway cut, but did not take the flight as the scores began to soar and then had weekend rounds of 67 and 69.
Howell is massively relieved to be playing again.
“The most frustrating thing is that I put in as much time and effort into my career as anyone,” he said while attending Donald’s marriage celebrations on the Greek island of Santorini.
“I had a masterplan for this year, but that’s just been thrown up in the air now.”
A year ago he was 10th in the world. Now he is 38th. Since the Masters in April, where from one off the lead after an opening 70 he fell away to 44th, the Ryder Cup star has played just 20 competitive holes.
“I’ve been so bored. At one point I watched a whole season of ’Prison Break’ episodes in three days. Mind-numbing stuff.
“Apart from one round I’ve not played for the best part of three months now and golf’s all about momentum. It’s also stressful not knowing how well you are going to play when you do come back.
“I’ve come back from previous lay-offs and done well straightaway. I wasn’t playing well before I got injured and maybe starting again with a clean slate it will be different.
“The good thing is that there is still so much to play for this season and it’s not a Ryder Cup year.”
One issue that will have to be resolved, however, is his US Tour card. To meet membership requirements over there Howell would have to play in eight more counting events or seek a medical extension.
“Unless something miraculous happens – like I win the Open and therefore make it into the FedEx Cup play-offs over there – I can’t see me getting my 15 tournaments in over there.
“But in any case I need to think very carefully about what’s best for me given how many injuries I’ve been suffering and all the travelling I’ve been doing.”