Friday, May 08, 2009

Irish contingent at Wentworth

Rory McIlroy left his teenage years behind him today, safe in the knowledge that the next phase of his life promises to elevate him to the highest echelons of professional golf. McIlroy, who celebrated his 20th birthday far from home in the United States, will spearhead a formidable quartet of European Tour champions bidding to become the first player from Northern Ireland to capture the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth Club in Surrey from May 21-24. The ‘birthday boy’ is joined in the 150-strong field to compete over the famous West Course by compatriots and fellow Tour winners Darren Clarke, Michael Hoey and Graeme McDowell. The fact that McIlroy enters the Championship in the top 20 on the Official World Golf Ranking – he is currently Number 18 – indicates the rapid progress which he has made since making his first appearance in the BMW PGA Championship last year. McIlroy went into the Championship ranked 175th in the world and missed the cut with rounds of 74 and 77. However, since then he has become the youngest qualifier for the Masters Tournament at the age of 19 and claimed his first European Tour title in the 2009 Dubai Desert Classic in February to alert the golfing world to his talent. Clarke will be appearing in his 18th consecutive BMW PGA Championship, aiming to go one better than his pair of second place finishes behind Ian Woosnam in 1997 and Colin Montgomerie in 2000. The five-time Ryder Cup player, a winner of 12 European Tour titles, returns to the familiar surroundings of Wentworth Club alongside a player who made his Ryder Cup debut last September in McDowell, who earned his place at Valhalla Golf Club on the strength of two impressive victories last season. Hoey is the most recent champion among the quartet, having beaten Spain’s Gonzalo Fernandez-Castaño in a play-off for the Estoril Open de Portugal last month. To complete the strong Northern Irish line-up, Belfast’s Gareth Maybin is also in the field chasing the first prize of €750,000.

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