Irish Open Diary: Lions will find a den in Portstewart

Big screens will show third test in tented village at Irish Open

Fans line the dunes during day one of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Portstewart. Photo:  Warren Little/Getty Images

Fans line the dunes during day one of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Portstewart. Photo: Warren Little/Getty Images

 

The European Tour’s decision to cater for rugby supporters who attend the DDF Irish Open in Portstewart on Saturday in showing the decisive third test between New Zealand and the Lions on the big screen in the tented village should guarantee a lively atmosphere.

Ireland fullback Rob Kearney is scheduled to provide half-time and ful-ltime analysis at the venue. He knows what it feels like to win (2013, Australia) and lose (2009, South Africa) a Test series as a Lions’ player.

While there is no doubting his allegiance rugby wise, it might be less well known that his dream fourball would have been to play alongside the late Seve Ballesteros, Tiger Woods and Offaly’s finest Shane Lowry.

Lowry lived on the Carton House estate where the Ireland rugby team trains and stays ahead of test matches and their paths crossed there as the Irish rugby players occasionally frequented the driving range during down time; Lowry gave the them a golf clinic or two in the past.

So as soon as Kearney’s rugby duties are done he might be keen to head out the course and hopefully cheer on Lowry’s bid to win a second Irish Open title.

Jamie Donaldson at Portstewart. Photo: Warren Little/Getty Images
Jamie Donaldson at Portstewart. Photo: Warren Little/Getty Images

Donaldson the top past man

What’s the similarity between the 2016 Irish Open champion and the 1990 winner of the tournament? Well Rory McIlroy, the defending champion and Jose Maria Olazabal, the oldest winner of the title in this year’s tournament, both signed for level par, 72s.

There are 11 former winners of the Irish Open in this year’s tournament at Portstewart and the bragging rights in that mini-group after the first round belong to Welshman Jamie Donaldson, who had nine birdies in his 66.

Here is a full rundown with the year the player won the Irish Open in brackets.

-6: Jamie Donaldson (2012).

-4: Padraig Harrington (2007), Shane Lowry (2009), Soren Kjeldsen (2015)

-3: Mikko Ilonen (2014), Simon Dyson (2011)

Level: Jose Maria Olazabal (1990), Rory McIlroy (2016), Richard Finch (2008)

+1: Thomas Bjorn (2006)

+2: Brett Rumford (2004)

K Club a life changing experience for Southgate

Matthew Southgate must have a soft spot for the Irish Open. In 2015 the 28-year-old was diagnosed with testicular cancer, yet somehow he managed to negotiate three stages of qualifying school before arriving at last year’s Irish Open at the K Club needing a big pay day to try and retain his tour status and alleviate some of the huge pressure he’d been under on and off the course.

Jamie Donaldson at Portstewart. Photo: Warren Little/Getty Images
Jamie Donaldson at Portstewart. Photo: Warren Little/Getty Images

He finished fourth, winning €150,000 to secure his Tour card. Few will forget his tears on the 18th green. It was a lovely story and one that’s developed legs against following yesterday’s first round at Portstewart when Southgate went out and shot a seven under par 65 to lie tied for third.

Speaking about last year he said: “(It) completely changed my life. I think the biggest thing for me was that I always thought I was good enough to perform like that, and it was more like proving a point to the rest of the world that I could do it.

“That sort of put me in a nice place mentally because I stopped worrying about can you do this and what other people think of you and have you got the game.”

Numbers Game

17, 763: The number of people that attended the first day’s play at the Irish Open.

Quote of the Day

“It’s a great setting. I think to play brilliant golf courses, a great links course, this is the spot: you’ve got Portrush, Portstewart, Royal County Down. If you are going to go anywhere for a golf holiday you’d come here. It’s just incredible scenery.” Jamie Donaldson.

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