Golf

Winning the Irish Open would be a dream come true for Graeme McDowell

Graeme McDowell hopes to join Shane Lowry, Padraig Harrington and Rory McIlroy as an Irish Open winner when this year's event takes place in Portstewart in July
Tony McGee

WINNING the Irish Open would be a dream come true for Graeme McDowell.

The Portrush-born golfing star was speaking after he confirmed his entry for this year's Dubai Duty Free Irish Open Championship, scheduled for Portstewart on July 6 to 9.

And another Northern Ireland golf legend, Darren Clarke, the British Open champion of 2011, will join McDowell on the Portstewart links for the summer showdown.

Pádraig Harrington, Shane Lowry and Rory McIlroy, who broke his duck at The K Club last year, have all tasted success in the European Tour event that is now part of the new €5.7m Rolex Series.

And no doubt McDowell and Clarke would love to join that illustrious band.

The 2010 US Open Champion McDowell grew up in nearby Portrush, and regularly played Portstewart as an amateur, while Clarke, the 2011 Open Champion, now lives there.

Says McDowell: “The Dubai Duty Free Irish Open is always a special week for me but this year it will be even more so, returning once again to the area where I grew up.

“Portstewart is a fantastic golf course and it’s great to be going back to another classic links.

“Winning the Irish Open has always been something I’ve dreamed of doing and my game is shaping up nicely at the start of this year so, hopefully, I can put in a strong performance in front of the home fans.”

Clarke is equally enthusiastic about having the Irish Open at Portstewart: “I am always so proud when the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open comes to Northern Ireland and especially to an area which is so close to my heart.

“It is a spectacular links golf course and with this year’s event being a part of the Rolex Series, with a new date on the calendar and boasting an increased prize fund, I’m sure we’ll attract another great field.

“I believe the Northern Irish fans are some of the best in the world and it’s always a special atmosphere that they create. Hopefully, I can bring some good form into the week.”

Tickets for the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, hosted by the Rory Foundation, are already on sale and can be purchased by contacting www.dubaidutyfreeirishopen.com.

Meanwhile despite being ranked 12th in the world at the time, Danny Willett was a largely unfancied outsider 12 months ago to don the US Masters jacket and returns to Augusta next week in a similar position after struggling for form.

The 29-year-old had a three-shot lead after 54 holes in Malaysia but faded to fifth, finished 69th in the 77-man field in the WGC-Mexico Championship and failed to reach the knockout stages of the WGC-Match Play in Austin.

Anyone believing he can become the first back-to-back winner since Tiger Woods in 2002 can take advantage of odds of 125/1, as some of those friends who missed the thrilling outcome did 12 months ago.

"Obviously if you play bad for a few weeks, you build up a little bit of bad habits in there and you hit a few bad shots under certain circumstances, and it's never good to see that," Willett added.

"Getting the confidence back has been a bit tricky. Towards the back end of the season the game wasn't where I wanted it to be, but then being tired and all that stuff means you can get frustrated a little bit easier and that leads you to hit more balls and practice harder and in actual fact all that does at times is make you more tired.

"The game is not far away. We just need to now get on a bit of a stretch. If that happens, great. If that doesn't happen, we're still going to keep working hard and try to get back to where we want to get to.

"The year as a whole... there have been some ups and downs in the last 12 months. But when I get back to Augusta you host the Champions Dinner on the Tuesday, you're going to be in a room there with guys that have slipped on the green jacket, and then I think you realise then how great of an achievement it actually was."

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