Tuesday, March 06, 2012

McIlroy's return to Irish pastures

Northern Ireland’s first World Number One, Rory McIlroy, achieved one lifelong ambition on Sunday. Now he aims to fulfil another boyhood dream by winning the Irish Open, which will be held in front of his home fans at Royal Portrush from June 28 to July 1. McIlroy, who knocked Luke Donald off his perch at the head of the world order by winning the Honda Classic, is hoping to adorn an already glittering CV with victory in his National Open - which will be played at the stunning links in County Antrim for the first time since 1947.The 22 year old reigning US Open Champion from Holywood can now expect a hero’s reception when he tees off at Royal Portrush in June, with his sights firmly trained on succeeding England’s Simon Dyson as champion. And the new World Number One can’t wait to entertain the Northern Irish public on home turf. McIlroy, who is enjoying the view from the top of the world, said: “It would be incredible to win. I haven’t played competitively at Royal Portrush since 2005, so to go back there and have the chance to win my National Open is something that is very, very important to me. Hopefully I can give it a real good go this year. “For the Irish Open to come to Portrush is a huge thing for any golfer from Northern Ireland. So for myself and the likes of Graeme [McDowell], Darren [Clarke] and Michael Hoey to play the Irish Open in Northern Ireland is a dream come true for us.” The chance to see the reigning US Open Champion and his three fellow Irish Major Champions – Clarke, Padraig Harrington and McDowell – has generated huge interest in his homeland, and McIlroy is expecting a bumper turnout in June. He said: “It’s incredible to see the response of the fans so early on, and it just goes to show how popular golf in Northern Ireland has become. Previous Irish Opens have tended to be a bit earlier in the season so the weather might not have been so good, but hopefully this year at Portrush we can get some good weather and everyone can make the most of it. I’m expecting huge crowds and a great atmosphere there, and hopefully we can have a memorable week.“This is going to be one of the biggest events Northern Ireland has ever held, especially as three recent Major Champions will be coming home to play in front of their home fans. Everyone I’ve spoken to is so excited about the Irish Open coming to Portrush, and hopefully it’ll be a great boost for the club as well. Maybe one day they’ll be able to host an Open Championship there.” For now, McIlroy believes Royal Portrush is the perfect venue to host the Irish Open, and he is fully expecting the 6,843 yards, par 72 course – where he once shot 61 as an amateur - to provide a fearsome but fair test when the 57th edition of the historic event unfolds. He said: “I think the word most people use to describe Portrush is probably ‘fair’. It’s such a tough course, but it’s also very fair. It’s very well designed, and there’s some beautiful scenery, especially by the fifth green and sixth tee. Anyone who plays the course falls in love with it, and it’ll be great to get back there in June. “You need to drive the ball well there. You definitely can’t hit it offline, because there’s some long rough, brambles and fern bushes. So you’ve really got to keep your ball in play. There are a few holes, especially the ninth and tenth, which you really need to try to take advantage of. So if you can do that and keep your ball in play, then you’ve got a good chance. I can’t wait to tee it up.”

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