Rory McIlroy determined to rise above the pressure and answer the call in Irish Open
Ulsterman says he feels ‘suffocated’ by the weight of expectation of winning the national championship
The course set-up here is far removed from the claustrophobic feel to Merion, where McIlroy last played a competitive round. Indeed, it couldn’t be more different. Graeme McDowell, for one, described it as “perfect” and, for sure, players will drive to wide fairways designed for accuracy rather than length. The greens are pristine, rolling at a not-too-fast 11 on the stimpmeter, and the rough is not as penal as it was in 2005 and 2006 when the course hosted the championship.
The challenge is a fair one, but one which will also ask questions. One of Colin Montgomerie’s design traits is for deep, cavernous sand traps that carry a half-shot penalty. “The bunkers are a bit severe and will probably get a bit of flack this week,” conceded Shane Lowry. They are best avoided.
Lowry – in 2009 – was the last Irish player to win his national open. This time, there is not only strength in numbers but also in terms of quality. McIlroy and McDowell are the only two players in the field ranked inside the world’s top 10 and, in all, there are 27 home players in the 156-man field.
“It’s tough to win your national open. There’s a lot of Irish guys who play this event with similar feelings to (playing in) a Major, a lot of pressure and stress. And there will be another 130 or so non-Irish players who will be treating it as a regular event and be under a lot less pressure than the home guys,” contended Pádraig Harrington.
Perceived glory years
The overall depth of the field may lack some of the glamour associated with the championship’s perceived glory years of the ‘70s and ‘80s but, for all that, no fewer than 12 winners of tournaments on the European Tour so far this season are in the field: McDowell, Scott Jamieson, Jamie Donaldson, Stephen Gallacher, Richard Sterne, Darren Fichardt, Raphael Jacquelin, Brett Rumford, Peter Uihlein, Mikko Ilonen, Joost Luiten and Simon Thornton.
McDowell and Thornton are the only Irish players to have won on tour so far this season but the incentive is huge on a number of fronts for the likes of McIlroy, Lowry, Harrington and Darren Clarke – who went so close in the rain-delayed event here in 2006 – to emulate those wins.
For the frontline Irish players, this Irish Open – more than ever – offers the chance to start climbing towards the peaks again. For McDowell, on the back of back-to-back missed cuts; for the belly-putter wielding Harrington, searching for an overdue win on tour; for Lowry, on home turf; for McIlroy, seeking to let his clubs do the talking. Who will answer the call?