Martin Kaymer and Luke Donald confirmed for Irish Open
Patrick Reed also coming to Royal County Down as Rory McIlroy continues to draw stars
Reigning US Open champion Martin Kaymer will play at the Irish Open at Royal County Down at the end of May. Photograph: Andrew Redington/Getty Images
Darren Clarke’s fishing trip to Boca Grande wasn’t too productive. It would seem Rory McIlroy is having considerably greater success in reeling in the world’s top players to play in the Irish Open, with current US Open champion Martin Kaymer and former world number one Luke Donald the latest additions to the field for the tournament which takes place at Royal County Down on May 28th-31st.
“He pulls in a lot of favours to get guys to come over and play,” said Clarke. “The fact he has got so many of the world’s top players coming to play is testament to how much they think of Rory, of the regard that he is held in.
“It is a statement as to what he wants to achieve and to help the Irish Open move on,” added Clarke, who returned from his post-Masters fishing break yesterday to news that the tournament’s prize fund had increased by 25 per cent to €2.5 million. The top prize has increased from the €333,330 which Mikko Illonen won at Fota Island last year up to €416,660.
Patrick Reed, the world number 14 and reigning WGC-Cadillac Matchplay champion, was also confirmed to augment the prior announcements that Rickie Fowler, Ernie Els, Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia had committed to play.
“If you look at what Tiger (Woods) did to become the best player in the world, he played all over the world in different places. Patrick Reed is still at the early stages of his successful career, and he is obviously taking that on board and decided he needs to experiment a bit and looking to play more outside of America, which can only be good for an event such as the Irish Open,” remarked Clarke.
With the field taking shape, and set to be the strongest Irish Open in many years, the McIlroy factor – which was also influential in attracting Dubai Duty Free on board as the title sponsor – has played a huge part in strengthening the field with the prospect of more big names yet to be added. Dustin Johnson is believed to be among those who could yet decide to play, depending on his scheduling.
“Rory hasn’t finished asking people yet,” said Antonia Beggs, the championship director, who added: “We want to be strategic about this. (The Irish Open) is not just a one-off (tie-in with the Rory Foundation), this event is going to grow and grow and grow.”
A limit of 20,000 spectators a day has been placed on attendances for health and safety reasons, with Sunday’s final round already close to a sell-out. Demand for the other tournament days is also strong, with Beggs making the point that anyone who turns up without a ticket is likely to be disappointed. So far, some 22 per cent of the ticket sales have been from outside of Northern Ireland.
Clarke – who will be competing in his 24th Irish Open – has won a Major and two WGC titles in his honour-laden career, but the Irish Open has evaded him. He’d like to change that statistic.
“I’ve always wanted to win. It’s been very close to my heart. I have won in The K Club, in the European Open, but it wasn’t the Irish Open. So, it’s the one that I have always wanted to win.”
Perhaps a case of 24th time lucky? If he is to finally do it, though, it will be against a stellar field that has truly benefited from the McIlroy factor.