The power of Rory McIlroy’s prestige and pull as the popular No. 1 player in the world will be on display this wekend at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open Hosted by the Rory Foundation, kicking off Thursday at the Royal County Down Golf Club in Newcastle, Northern Ireland.
McIlroy’s calling card has pulled several players away from the more well-known PGA Tour – the AT&T Byron Nelson in Dallas, Texas. In addition to McIlroy, American Rickie Fowler, ranked ninth in the world, is in the field, along with world No. 7 Sergio Garcia and 2014 US Open champion Martin Kaymer.
Also on hand is 35-year-old Finn Mikko Ilonen, who won the title here last year in front of the gallery he calls “the most knowledgeable golf fans.”
“The best thing coming back to Ireland every year is the crowds,” Ilonen said. “I know all the players, caddies, whoever is part of the tournament, they always tell about the atmosphere in The Irish Open. It doesn’t really get much better than that.”
Also on hand is Korea’s Byeong-Hun An, the 23 year old who won the BMW PGA Championship in a runaway last week in the UK.
Notable first and second-round playing trios along with Thursday tee times (local time) are listed below.
7:40 a.m. (back nine) – Darren Clarke, Luke Donald, Danny Willett
7:50 a.m. (back nine) – Graeme McDowell, Lee Westwood, Miguel Angel Jimenez
8:00 a.m. (back nine) – Martin Kaymer, Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler
12:50 p.m. (front nine) – Padraig Harrington, Mikko Ilonen, Sergio Garcia.
13:00 p.m. (front nine) – Ernie Els, Shane Lowry, Francesco Molinari
13:10 p.m. (front nine) – Victor Dubuisson, Tommy Fleetwood, Byeong Hun An