IF confidence counts for anything, then Graeme McDowell is a great bet at 14-1 to maintain the recent trend of home victories in the 3 Irish Open.
The recently-crowned US Open champion is as much buoyed by shooting 59 in a fun round over the Valley Course in Portrush at the week-end as he is by his famous victory at Pebble Beach. He has rested well and prepared well and is ready for a serious challenge on his national championship.
“We are trying to get this tournament back to one of the best on the calendar,” said McDowell. “Historically it’s been a great event, great field, great champions and it’s also great to have it in July. There’s a buzz about the town and 3 have done a great job in promoting it and I’ve told as many guys as I can to get down here this week.
“As an Irish player, this is definitely our unofficial fifth major so, yeah, it’s great to be here as the US Open champion and I’m really looking forward to the next few days.”
McDowell is just one of many pros aghast at the length of many modern courses. Last week in Sweden, they could have stretched to 8,200 yards if they so wished, leaving G-Mac to wonder: “Where does it stop? It’s nice to come back to a course that they tell me hasn’t changed much since 1992 when Faldo won here. That’s impressive. People watching on TV and who come here want to see us making birdies.”
McDowell’s caddie Kenny Comboy got to Killarney early and told his boss to expect sub-60 rounds. However, after his first look at the Killeen lay-out, the player had a different view.
“I didn’t think it was a 10 under par every day type of place,” he reasoned. “The greens are elevated and they are tricky with a lot of run-off areas. If we get a bit of wind, it’s going to be a tricky enough little place but expect a lot of birdies as well.”
Pressed on the subject of a possible round of 59, McDowell went on: “I had my first 59 on Sunday playing with my father Kenny, uncle Uel and an American friend Kevin Vance. It was over the Valley Course at Portrush, only 6, 400 yards, but 59 is still a very pleasant number to shoot. It was nice to go out and see that my game is in good shape.
“The key to shooting very low is good putting surfaces and I think they are good enough out there.”
McDowell worries for the immediate future of the tour with so many conflicting events around the globe making for fields of lesser quality than the sponsors putting up the money in straitened time should have to endure.
“You look back 20 years ago and events like the Irish, English and Spanish Opens, they were premier events and unfortunately it’s not like that any more,” he commented.
“We need sponsors like 3 who can come in and revive a tournament like this and give it and give it a little added dimension.
“The Irish Open has had bad luck due to weather and nothing to do with great courses like Carton House, Baltray, Portmarnock and so on. We have a great sponsor and a great date on the calendar this week. It’s disappointing that Westwood and some of the really top players are not here but scheduling is hard nowadays with the four majors and three WGCs the framework of every top player’s schedule.
McDowell is one of 27 Irish in the field this week each and every one with a target of their own. The eight representatives from the domestic IPGA Region and the four amateurs would probably settle initially for making it through to the week-end. For the bigger guns, there is always an incentive and for Pádraig Harrington the biggest one of all is proving that a two-year drought without a tournament success can be brought to an end.
The ideal outcome for the sponsors and the crowd would be an Irish victory achieved in similarly dramatic fashion to that of Shane Lowry last year and Harrington in ‘07. Let the action begin.
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