Irish Open Preview, Picks & Analysis
THE on-off-on again Dubai Duty Free Irish Open takes place at Galgorm Castle Golf Club this week, with Open champion Shane Lowry returning to competitive action in Northern Ireland for the first time since his memorable victory at Royal Portrush in July last year.
The 33-year-old lifted the Claret Jug in front of his adoring fans last year following a six-stroke win over England’s Tommy Fleetwood. He's back 14 months after that famous victory in search of a second title in his home open, which will this year take place without general spectators in line with the European Tour’s medical health strategy.
It will mark Lowry’s first appearance on the European Tour since February, when he claimed a top 15 finish at the Saudi International.
His Open triumph last year was his fifth European Tour title and came six months after the he had broken a five-year drought at the Abu Dhabi Championship, sealing his first Rolex Series title.
This tournament holds some very special memories for Lowry. His maiden victory in 2009 was also one which went down in the annals, as Lowry – then a 22-year-old amateur – stormed through the field before overcoming Robert Rock in a playoff.
The closest he has come to winning for a second time came in 2015 when he finished in a share of fifth, before going on to win a first World Golf Championships title at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational later that year.
“I’m really looking forward to getting back home to play the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open,” said Lowry. “As a proud Irishman, this event means a lot to me and is always one of the most important tournaments on my schedule each year. While it’s been extremely challenging for all players to plan their global tournament schedules this season, I wanted to do everything possible to get home to play the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and I’m delighted that I’ve been able to commit to this year’s tournament given the circumstances.
“Obviously I was really looking forward to playing in front of our home fans as the Open champion this year, which would have been really special, but sadly it’s not to be. I’m sure everyone will be supporting from home and watching the event on TV, so hopefully I can put in a good performance at Galgorm Castle and give the Irish fans something to shout about. I’ve been fortunate enough to win the Irish Open already and I would dearly love to win it again.”
It will be the fourth time in nine years that Northern Ireland hosts the historic event, and the first time it will be played at Galgorm Castle. The Antrim venue has played host to successful Challenge Tour events for each of the past eight years, the most recent of which took place last week.
In 2012, Northern Ireland hosted the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open for the first time in 59 years at Royal Portrush. Royal County Down went on to welcome the event for the first time in 2015, while Portstewart Golf Club hosted in 2017.
It will be the first time the County Antrim venue has hosted Irish Open, with the event moving into the date vacated by the postponement of the Ryder Cup.
The 2020 Ryder Cup would have been a celebration of Irish golf with Padraig Harrington captaining Europe in the contest at Whistling Straits – the third European captain from the island of Ireland in the past four contests (the others being Paul McGInley and Darren Clarke).
With a free week in his schedule, Harrington will be playing in what is his first competitive outing in seven months. He last played on the European Tour at January’s Omega Dubai Desert Classic, while his last competitive appearance came at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March.
The Dubliner says he is thrilled to take part in the Irish Open, which he won in 2007 prior to a famous winning streak which yielded three Major titles in 13 months.
“I’m really looking forward to returning to competitive golf at the Irish Open,” said Harrington. “It’s obviously a tournament which holds a very special place in my heart and I guess it’s a nice coincidence that it falls on the week that was originally scheduled for The 2020 Ryder Cup.
“It has been a long time off for me so I’m not sure what to expect, especially without the home fans who always spur me on, but I’m excited to get the competitive juices flowing again and hopefully put on a good performance for all the viewers watching on television.”
The tournament was originally scheduled to take place at Mount Juliet Estate in County Kilkenny in May but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
With quarantine restrictions for travellers into the Republic of Ireland ongoing and the ban on mass gatherings still in place, the European Tour made the decision to move the tournament to Northern Ireland, where it will be subject to similar guidelines to the UK Swing, including being played behind closed doors. It is hoped that next year’s tournament will be played at Mount Juliet.
Following the changes to the date and the venue, the Irish Open will have a prize fund of €1.25m and will not be part of the Rolex Series.
It was won in 2015 by Soren Kjeldsen, in 2016 by Rory McIlroy, in 2017 and 2019 by Jon Rahm and in 2018 by Russell Knox.
Shane Lowry. Delighted to be back on home turf
Shane Lowry. Still hugely underrated
Nicolas Colsaerts. Still a wonderful ball striker
Justin Harding. Enjoying a great season
George Coetzee. Back to winning ways
Ryan Fox. Hits the ball a country mile
Connor Syme. Full of confidence
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