x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

The buzz has it that Royal Portrush is just the ticket

Such is the excitement prior to the event that Graeme McDowell notes the Irish Open has the feel of a major tournament.

Graeme McDowell, second from the right, and his brother, Gary, took time for some doubles with US actor Bill Murray, far right, and his brother, Joel.
Graeme McDowell, second from the right, and his brother, Gary, took time for some doubles with US actor Bill Murray, far right, and his brother, Joel.

The atmosphere is buzzing at the Irish Open and the tournament has the feel of a major championship, Graeme McDowell says.

The appearance of the Northern Irish trio of Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke and McDowell - plus the triple-major champion Padraig Harrington of Ireland - has helped the European Tour to achieve a first by declaring a sell-out for all four days at Royal Portrush.

Organisers are expecting around 100,000 fans to turn up as the tournament returns to the famous old links course for the first time since 1947.

"When these crowds come in over the next few days it's going to feel like a major championship," McDowell said in an interview with the BBC.

"The golf course will certainly be major-championship standard and there's no doubt there will be a little bit of added expectation from the fans looking to see the Irish boys play well."

He noted that Royal Portrush has historical significance, given the British Open was staged here in 1951.

"But in the modern era, this is one of the proudest moments for this golf club, for the area and for Northern Ireland," he said.

"It's a huge thrill to see such a great field assembled and everyone is buzzing and excited. To be one of the three or four guys who helped make this happen through our major successes also gives me a huge sense of pride.

'It's great to have played a part and it's kind of a dream come true."

McIlroy has fond memories of Royal Portrush. He was 16 when he shot a record 11-under-par 61 during the 2005 North of Ireland Championship.

Now 23, this will be the first time he has played in front of his home fans as a professional.

McIlroy said he believes he has improved following a disappointing US Open, where he was 10 over for two days and was excused from the final 36 holes.

He is looking to overcome a slump that has seen him miss the cut in four out of his last five tournaments.

"I feel like I've made a lot of progress and I'm really looking forward to this week and hopefully giving myself a chance to win here," McIlroy told Sky Sports.

"I'm feeling good and had some really good practice over the last 10 days and my game feels in really good shape."

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