The European Tour hopes its long-awaited return to the K Club for this May’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Open could tempt Tiger Woods to the tournament in a reunion of the 2006 Ryder Cup teams.
A decade on from Europe’s famous 18.5 to 9.5 rout of the United States by the banks of the Liffey in Co. Kildare, tournament promoter Antonia Beggs outlined her ambitious wish to gather as many of the 24 golfers who played under captains Ian Woosnam and Tom Lehman to play in the 2016 Irish Open Hosted by the Rory Foundation.
Whether getting 14-time major winner Woods, still out of action following back surgery last September was a possibility or not, Beggs did not know but she said every effort would be made, including using tournament host Rory McIlroy’s powers of persuasion to bring the 40-year-old back to the K Club.
Speaking after a press conference at the venue to announce an initiative to get club golfers involved by staging a competition to allow a team to play in the pre-tournament pro-am, Beggs was asked about the prospect of Woods teeing off on May 19.
“I’d love him to be,” she said.
“I think it’s fair for me to say, Rory McIlroy has been hugely involved about the club initiative and also his commitment to making the Irish Open the best event ever and he wouldn’t let hurdles like asking Tiger to come and play step in our way.”
None of the 2006 players had been formally approached yet, Beggs adding: “Not official correspondence as yet, it’s very much word of mouth.
"From Abu Dhabi last week, that’s kind of when everyone cranks the wheels again into talking about schedules and looking at dates and commitments and what they need to do so that’s what our player relations team do and why they are out there.
“One thing (new chief executive) Keith Pelley is very much about is not all working as individual tournaments.
"We’re the European Tour, let’s get as many great players as possible playing on the European Tour and then work out which tournaments they play in.
"So that’s what they’re driving at.”
The Tour confirmed a prize fund increase from €2.5m to €4m and announced a three-year extension of Dubai Duty Free’s title sponsorship to 2019 with an option of a further year after that having come on board for the 2015 Irish Open at Royal County Down.
And while the 60% increase in prize money should attract a stronger field, the presence of Woods in addition to McIlroy would help Beggs realise a further ambition of attracting 100,000 spectators through the gates from the Wednesday pro-am to Sunday’s final round at a property which can cope with 50,000 per day.
“I’d love to break 100, that doesn’t happen much on the Tour... but I think we can go more. I love kind of competing against other tournaments and I love competing against The Open Championship because, I mean, I’m lucky enough to stage events all over the world and my goodness, the Irish come out and support their own and it’s just fantastic to see that.
“We want to break 100,000 but if we get fair weather and Rory coming up on the Sunday I’d like to say ‘oh my goodness, close the gates’.”
Meanwhile, Paul McGinley’s seasonal European Tour debut came up short in Doha yesterday as both he and Michael Hoey missed the Qatar Masters halfway cut at one over par.
McGinley carded a second-round 73 featuring two front-nine penalty drops while a double bogey at the eighth derailed Hoey, who slid from five-under-par with a 77.
Two-time Qatar winner Paul Lawrie of Scotland held a one-shot lead at 11-under following a six-under 66.
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