Irish golfers enduring longest winless streak in 11 years
Time is also running out for Paul Dunne and Graeme McDowell to secure Open spots
Pádraig Harrington in action during the Irish Open at Portstewart. “I am very comfortable where I am at with my game of golf and general attitude to it.” Photograph: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images
Who will flick the light switch first? It’s a question occupying the minds of the five-strong Irish contingent competing in this week’s Scottish Open – another of the megabuck $7 million tournaments that form part of the new-fangled Rolex Series – because, as things stand, there is more darkness than light.
Not since 2006 have we reached this juncture of the season without any Irish winner, on either of the main tours, in Europe or the United States.
And, going into the Scottish Open, the form line isn’t exactly inspiring: three players – most notably Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, but also Darren Clarke – missed the cut in the DDF Irish Open, while Pádraig Harrington, just over a week out from the British Open at Royal Birkdale where he won his second claret jug in 2008, and Paul Dunne both struggled in the final two rounds.
Of the quintet, McDowell and Dunne are not yet qualified for the Open and, to do so, will need to be one of the top-three players not already exempt finishing in the top-10 at Dundonald Links.
Players differ in how they like to prepare the week before a Major. For some, a scorecard in hand is preferred; for others, time spent practising.
Shane Lowry has opted to bypass the Scottish Open, although admitting to some second thoughts. “Being honest, I would like to be playing now,” admitted Lowry, who instead will play practice rounds at Royal County Down and possibly Portmarnock this week.
Harrington, with half an eye on Birkdale, is using the Scottish Open as a target in its own right.
“I’m happy with pretty much everything in my game. The putts didn’t drop [in the Irish Open] but there’ll be another week those putts drop . . . . I’m trying to carry forward what I had [at Portstewart] and hope to hit the jackpot one week,” he said.
Prior to his two British Open successes – at Carnoustie in 2007 and Birkdale in 2008 – Harrington fine-tuned by playing, and winning, the Irish PGA Championship in the week beforehand.
“Having a scorecard is substantially different, you have to deal with your emotions when you’re playing in a tournament, the ups and downs of different things, and just hitting shots under a different sort of pressure . . . . there’s stuff [at the Scottish Open] that I am working on for Birkdale, but it doesn’t take away from the tournament, it actually adds to the event.
“With the fact the Open is after the Scottish doesn’t diminish my chance of playing well. If anything, it increases it. I could peak a week early is what I am saying. It is not an exact science to peak the week of the Open. I could be the man the week of the Open. I could be the man the week after. Who knows?”
He added: “I’m in good stead; I know what I am doing. I am very comfortable where I am at with my game of golf and general attitude to it.”
Whilst Harrington, McIlroy and Clarke – as past champions – know they will be heading onwards to Birkdale from Dundonald, Dunne and McDowell need to earn an exemption. In truth, though, both are more focused on the Scottish Open itself and, if there is the bonus of a late ticket to the British Open, then so be it.
Dunne – tied-13th in the French Open and tied-54th in the Irish Open – admitted: “Right now, my game feels pretty poor, so I don’t feel great about it. I suppose it’s how you feel looking forward rather than looking backwards. I’ve a bit of work to do but it’ll turn around, I know it will. I just hope it’s sooner rather than later.”
For Gavin Moynihan, it is back to the reality of chasing down a full tour card for next season. His efforts in the Irish Open enabled him to move into 154th place on the Race to Dubai standings – with only one counting tournament played – but his chances of playing on the main circuit for the remainder of the season will be few and far between. So, it is back to the Challenge Tour.
Moynihan is part of a seven-strong Irish contingent competing in the Italian Challenge in Sardinia, along with Stephen Grant, Ruaidhri McGee, Cormac Sharvin, Michael Hoey, Gary Hurley and Chris Selfridge.
Waterford man Séamus Power is the lone Irish player in action in the John Deere Classic on the PGA Tour, where one spot will be available to the leading non-exempt player for the British Open.