A golf miscellany compiled by PHILIP REID
Irish Open Showcase: Ten Major champions will be competing at Royal Portrush
It’s in the lap of the gods, or spelt another way, the RA, whether or not the British Open will ever return to Royal Portrush. As showcases go, though, this week’s Irish Open – itself finally getting an overdue return to Northern Ireland – don’t come any better: a sell-out crowd, and, quite fittingly for one of the European Tour’s showpiece tournaments, a plethora of Major champions.
That three of those Major champions hail from the North, where their swings were fostered on some of the world’s top links courses, says all that needs to be said about the quality of player which has always seemed to appear from this neck of the woods. Messrs McDowell, McIlroy and Clarke have all raised the bar with their respective Major triumphs of the past two years.
In all, 10 Major champions will be competing in the Irish Open: Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke, Pádraig Harrington, Keegan Bradley, John Daly, Rich Beem, Jose Maria Olazabal, Paul Lawrie and Michael Campbell. It is, it must be acknowledged, quite a gathering and one that is the envy of all other “regular” tournaments on the PGA European Tour. But the Irish Open isn’t just a “regular” tournament. In terms of history, it dates all the way back to 1927 when George Duncan, who was a Major champion in his own right having claimed the 1920 British Open, used folded newspapers inside his clothing as extra protection against the elements when winning at Portmarnock.
In the years from 1927 to 1953, an informal rota of using courses North and South operated and, then, after a 10-year hiatus, the tournament returned (under the Carrolls International banner) and was played exclusively in the South (mainly at Woodbrook) before the Irish Open was properly revived in 1975.
Since then, 11 courses, all in the South, have played host to the championship . . . and, so, its return to Northern shores, for the first time since Belvoir Park in 1953, is both apposite and timely.
In terms of timing, having three Northerners with Major status is the stuff of marketing magic.
Since its revival in 1975, the Irish Open has produced a roll of honour of champions that has regularly had a connection with Major champions: Indeed, no fewer than 16 Irish Opens have been won by players who were or went on to become Major champions. The list is headed jointly by the three pre-eminent European players of the modern era: Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer and Seve Ballesteros, each of who won three Irish Open titles.
No matter which way you look at the list of Major champions who have also raised the Irish Open trophy as a winner, it is hugely impressive: Faldo (3 titles), Ballesteros (3), Langer (3) Ian Woosnam (2), Ben Crenshaw (1), Hubert Green (1), Olazabal (1), Michael Campbell (1) and Harrington (1).
The presence of 10 Major champions with 14 Major titles between them – Harrington (3), Olazabal (2), Daly (2), McDowell, McIlroy, Clarke, Bradley, Beem, Lawrie and Campbell (1) – is full vindication of the decision to return the Irish Open to the North and, perhaps, pave the way for a rota similar to the old days. Carton House is already pencilled in for next year.
Rub of green
Paul McGinley’s recent good form – three top-10s in his last four outings – underlines the competitive spirit that has been evident throughout a career highlighted by a World Cup victory and three Ryder Cup successes.