Rory McIlroy and Pádraig Harrington to spearhead home challenge at Irish Open

Irish Major winners sure to attract a huge following alongside Scotland’s Stephen Gallagher in their early threeball

Rory McIlroy: will be hoping to make a big impact in his first visit to Fota Island, venue for this year’s Irish Open. Photo: David Cannon/Getty

Rory McIlroy: will be hoping to make a big impact in his first visit to Fota Island, venue for this year’s Irish Open. Photo: David Cannon/Getty

Wed, Jun 18, 2014, 01:00

Samuel Taylor Coleridge once observed that “he who is best prepared can best serve his moment of inspiration”. He’s unlikely to have been thinking about golf but the sentiment he expressed carries a certain resonance for the sport.

This week the European Tour is in Ireland. Every nook and cranny of Fota Island’s Deerpark course is being scrutinised by golfers and caddies, the chat centring on premium lines from tee boxes and potential pin positions. It’s all about accumulating information.

A fair proportion of the field that won’t have seen the course before as it is 12 years since the beautiful parkland estate in Cork last hosted the Irish Open. Even for those with a prior knowledge of the venue, it’s matured appreciably in the interim, primarily in terms of the number of mature trees that now help to shape and define the majority of holes.

Where once it was possible to cast an eye from the third tee to the fifth green and see everything in between, that’s no longer the case.

It’s replicated throughout a layout that previously offered more panoramic distractions. It’s not been completed eradicated though as there are vantage points, down by the 13th green where it’s possible to chart the progress of several groups simultaneously.

Five new tee boxes have been constructed at the fourth, fifth, sixth, 10th and 18th holes. The sixth has commanded the most headlines, a drivable par four at 364 yards, with the teeing ground framed by water and the green guarded by bunkers with multiple pin positions on its two tiers. The course has been lengthened by about 117 metres.

The marquee groups are certain to commandeer a large tranche of the 100,000 spectators expected to attend a tournament that looks like being played in ideal conditions.

Rory McIlroy and Pádraig Harrington are joined by Scotland’s Stephen Gallacher in teeing off the 10th at 7.50am and in the three-ball behind is another Major winner and favourite with the galleries in Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke. He plays alongside Ross Fisher and Italian Matteo Manassero.

Shane Lowry, who yesterday confirmed a new sponsorship deal with Bank of Ireland that will run until December 2016, will play alongside defending champion Paul Casey and Graeme McDowell. They go off the first tee at 12.50pm.

They’re followed by Ryder Cup captain, Paul McGinley who will be accompanied by Spain’s Pablo Larrazabal and South African Branden Grace.

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