Some might defer to Rory McIlroy as the man who saved the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open in unselfishly getting on board as tournament host back in 2015, a role he fulfilled for four years, and bringing Dubai Duty Free along as title sponsors, but circumstances – among them Covid's impact – have meant a dilution in the strength of the field in recent years.
Indeed, when McIlroy captured the title at The K Club in 2016, he received 46 world ranking points. In contrast, last year's winner John Catlin earned 24 world ranking points when he won at Galgorm Castle last September; and this week's winner will gain 28 world points.
On the USPGA Tour, this week’s Rocket Mortgage Classic winner will receive 48 points, which highlights the differences.
This latest edition of the old tournament has a field that numbers four players from the world's top-50 – McIlroy (10), Tommy Fleetwood (33), Shane Lowry (43) and Christiaan Bezuidenhuit (47) – while Bob MacIntyre, ranked 51st, was forced to withdraw after being deemed a close contact in Covid tracing on his return from the United States.
It is what it is, for sure. And, as McIlroy pointed out, the biggest issue would appear to be the Irish Open's slot in the schedule, a week before the Scottish Open (a Rolex Series event) and two weeks before the British Open.
“It’s tough. It’s tough to go into The Open having it be your third week in a row. I think a lot of guys feel that. You’re not going to get many of the international guys coming over to play, they are not going to play the Irish Open and take a week off and then play The Open. It’s a better date than we had in May, I think, but it’s probably still not perfect to have a great field. You see the field at the Scottish Open next week, it’s very, very strong.
“So I don’t really know what the answer is. It’s obviously not as strong as it has been in previous years, and there’s a few factors to that, as well. You’ve got the tournament in Detroit on, PGA Tour this week. Guys just have so many options where to play and when to play. some guys are going to make the decision to play here and others aren’t.”
McIlroy is in one of the marquee groups – as you'd expect – for the opening two rounds, playing alongside Tommy Fleetwood and defending champion John Catlin; while another of the marquee groups, on the other side of the draw, features Claret Jug holder Shane Lowry alongside two-time Major champion Martin Kaymer and Jonathan Caldwell, recent winner of the Scandinavian Mixed.
Other marquee groups also have strong home influences, and include Pádraig Harrington in a group with Thomas Detry and Andy Sullivan; and Graeme McDowell playing alongside Thomas Pieters and Richard Bland.