Dubai Duty Free Irish Open defending champion Soren Kjeldsen has every reason to look back at last year’s Royal County Down victory with fondness. The Dane credits his victory as marking a pivotal moment in his career.
Kjeldsen had celebrated his 40th birthday a fortnight before his victory in a three-way play-off with Eddie Pepperell and Bernd Wiesberger and the two events, along with his hiring Australian caddie Alistair Matheson all combined for something of a perfect storm in his professional life.
Ranked 345th in the official world rankings at the start of 2015, and 105th as he teed off at RCD, Kjeldsen has since broken into the top 50, currently occupying 40th having finished tied seventh at The Masters last month.
“Last year was a fantastic win for me, and sort of a big turning point in my career, as well, after struggling for a few years,” he said.
“I think a big turning point for me was Alastair, that I’ve got on the bag. He started two weeks prior to Irish Open at the Spanish Open. Finished Top-10 there. I had not finished Top-10 for ages before that, and Alastair has been huge in everything that’s happened in the last 12 months. He came in first day and he said, ‘Why are you 350 in the world? You need to get back into the Top-50’.
“So let’s say about nine months later, no, probably before that, after about five months or whatever, we are 40-something in the world and I text him. I’m like, ‘now we are whatever in the world’, and he just texts back, ‘Okay’. That’s typical Alastair, down playing it. But he’s been incredible.”
Now Kjeldsen returns to the tournament where it all started and he is arguably in much better shape to win it here at the K Club this week.
“I’ve got tough competition this week, but I feel really good about my game,” he said. “I feel very comfortable about the course, and I love playing in Ireland, so I don’t see any reasons why I can’t. It’s going to be difficult, but I’m up for the challenge.”
Such are the trappings of being defending champion, the Dane will be in a much higher profile group this time around, teeing off at 1:25pm today with a trio of Ryder Cup hopefuls in tournament host Rory McIlroy and England’s Andy Sullivan.
“I’ve always loved playing with Rory. He’s a fantastic player and a great guy, I enjoy that, and Sullivan is pretty good to be out with, as well. Should be a good three-ball.
“I’ve been coming to Ireland for 18 years now on Tour, so I’ve always enjoyed that. Very knowledgeable, always got a sense of humour and create a good atmosphere, so for me it’s a great week.”
With the Irish Open a little earlier in the season this year, a Kjeldsen victory this Sunday would also be more of a celebration, coming just six days after his birthday.
“Well, it started at 40, it can start at 41 as well.”
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