Mikko Ilonen makes daring raid on Irish Open
Fota Island venue proves a resounding success with crowds that reached 97,889 over four days
Mikko Ilonen waves to yesterday’s large crowd after his victory in the Irish Open at Fota Island. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
A flying Finn, not unlike the Vikings of old, made a daring raid on the Irish Open. But as Mikko Ilonen walked away with the booty, his fourth career win on the PGA European Tour secured in wire-to-wire fashion, the prospects of returning to Fota Island – possibly in 2016 or alternatively 2018 – were further enhanced by crowds that reached 97,889 over the four tournament days.
With a successful rota system now in operation as the tournament moves around the island and switches between North and South, the event is due to be played at Royal County Down next year and will be played at Lough Erne in 2017. The venue for 2016 has yet to be determined, with the only guarantee that it will be held down South.
And, although Fota Island is now considered the favourite, it is not a done deal as a number of other courses have expressed an interest in staging the championship.
“It will be very much down to our discussions with the venue itself,” said Antonia Beggs, the tournament director from the European Tour. “We will get into review very quickly, while it is still fresh in the memories. In the next couple of weeks, we start planning for Royal County Down, and then have a look strategy wise for 2016. There are some fantastic golf course venues out there.”
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The Irish Open has found renewed vigour in recent years and, whilst the multi-sponsorship structure has been successful, Pádraig Harrington is of the opinion that it needs an international title sponsor if it is to progress further.
“I do believe we would be better having a title sponsor, no doubt about it. A title sponsor is going to drive the tournament along to get better value for themselves,” said Harrington, who expanded: “I think the Irish Open has got to be the best value event in the world, the coverage it gets all around the world, the ‘Golf Channel’ in the states, Asia, South Africa, Australia. This is value for money.”
“This one would be hard to beat. Fota Island is a very good venue and hopefully we’ll be back here in a couple of years’ time,” said Graeme McDowell, who finished as leading Irishman in tied-sixth.
Ilonen held the lead ever since shooting an opening round 64 on Thursday and was cool, calm and collected in finishing with a 70 for 271, 13-under, that gave him a one-stroke win over Italy’s Edoardo Molinari.