Roll up for the Rickie Fowler and Rory McIlroy show

Rory McIlroy will put his money where his mouth is when he tees off at Royal County Down this morning by pledging to donate any prize money he earns at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open to his charity.

The Rory Foundation plays host to the European Tour event here this weekend after the world number one took it upon himself to use his vast pulling power within golf to attract a strong field and title sponsor to his national Open.

He has succeeded on both fronts and with Dubai Duty Free on board and helping raise the prize fund to €2.5 million, McIlroy yesterday promised to plough any winnings straight into the Rory Foundation he set up in 2013 to support children’s charities, including the Children’s Cancer Fund, whose Daisy Lodge short-break therapeutic centre is nearby to Royal County Down in the foothills of the Mourne Mountains.

McIlroy’s success in attracting major rivals Sergio Garcia and Rickie Fowler amongst others to this year’s Irish Open has already benefitted his foundation, as the trio took part in a Q&A in front of invited guests at Daisy Lodge on Tuesday night and places in yesterday’s Pro-Am were auctioned off, some bids stretching well into six figures with a little extra help from the hero of the hour.

“The auction was going way too slowly for my liking, so I put my hand up and said: ‘I’ll pay a hundred grand to play by myself. So that made them, there was a few billionaires in that room, so that got their hands in their pockets.”

McIlroy hopes the tournament will benefit the Rory Foundation by anything up to €2m and a win on Sunday by the four-time major champion will help easily suprass that.

“Hopefully I can contribute €420,000 after I win on Sunday,” he said.

McIlroy, 26, certainly has a long-enough relationship with the course allied to his three tournament victories this season to suggest he has what it takes to live up to his top billing and claim a first Irish Open win.

He first played Royal County Down as a Walker Cup hopeful when the Holywood golfer was in his mid-teens before making the GB & I team and facing a USA team featuring Fowler here in 2007.

“Since that Walker Cup, I’ve gotten to know the course even better, because I come down here 7 at night, the nights are so long here, it stays late until half 10, and I can play nine holes at 7 and just carry my own clubs and walk around, hit a few balls.

“It really gets me back into links golf mode in a way and hitting little shots. I did loads of preparation here before The Scottish Open and The Open last year, and it definitely helped.”

Players champion Fowler, though, represents a tough challenger to his hopes as he has been since they first became friends during that 2007 Walker Cup.

“I wanted Rickie to play here just because of the history that we had here. It’s great to have him here. I was very pleased that Rickie and Sergio were in the play-off at The Players a couple weeks ago; creates more buzz about this tournament, and it was great to see him win.

“The two previous yours tournaments Rickie had won as a professional before The Players, I finished runner-up in both of them. He beat me in a play-off at Quail Hollow and he beat me by six or seven in Korea a couple years ago.

“There’s a lot of young guys out there now and we’re sort of pushing each other. But Rickie really stepped it up there at The Players and was a really impressive performance. Just great to have him here this week.”

Fowler yesterday seemed happy to be back and looking forward not just to duelling with McIlroy, with whom he has been paired for the first two rounds alongside US Open champion Martin Kaymer but also to returning to links play ahead of next month’s US Open on the west coast at Chambers Bay. Playing the Irish Open, Fowler said, was an easy decision to make.

“A lot of it is looking at how I can put myself up against the best players in the world and continue to prepare myself for the majors and some of the big events,” Fowler said. “I feel like this, being able to help out Rory and his foundation, and getting asked by him to come over here and play, I didn’t need to think about it at all.

“It’s one of my favourite places to play that I’ve ever been to and being able to help out a friend. I feel like this is a good test as a tournament, and obviously the course is amazing to me.

“There’s a lot of great players here, and in golf, any given week, guys can go out and play well and give themselves a chance to win the tournament. Rory has definitely shown he’s been the most consistent and the guy that’s been in that position most. Look forward to seeing him play well this week and see if I can put myself there and have some fun with him.”

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