Irish Open: Heroes to a tee
Liam Kelly reflects on the men and the moments that have helped make the Irish Open one of the best events in Europe
THE Irish Open at Carton House continues the honourable tradition of our top national golf tournament in attracting some of the world's very best talent.
Irish galleries traditionally have responded magnificently to the presence of the great and the good of the game and this week should be no exception, especially as our own Major winners Padraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell, Darren Clarke and Rory McIlroy will be in action.
Here's a look at some of the best moments from its history.
At the time: Duncan, British Open winner in 1920, lent his support and prestige to the idea of establishing the Irish Open.
Open highlight? Aged 44 and reckoned to be past his best, the Wentworth pro showed his mettle by holing out in the final round for 74 – a feat dubbed 'almost superhuman' on a day when the final 36 holes were played in ferocious gales that flattened marquees and in lashing rain.
Duncan was 14 shots adrift of tournament leader Jack Smith and six behind Henry Cotton after 54 holes, but beat Cotton (81 in the final round) by a shot ,with Smith scoring 91 over that final 18 holes.
At the time: Despite his slim build, Daly could match anyone for length and accuracy on his day.
Open highlight? Daly became the first Irishman to lift the trophy when the Open resumed in 1946 at Portmarnock after World War II. Once again, the format was 72 holes over three days, with a 36-hole finish.
Daly shot a record-equalling 69 in the third round en route to a 288 total and victory by four shots from 1938 Irish Open champion Bobby Locke.
ROYAL PORTRUSH 1947
At that time: Renowned competitor who worked tirelessly on all aspects of his short game which became a great weapon in his armoury.
Open highlight? Bradshaw, then attached to Kilcroney in Wicklow, a club that is now defunct, followed Fred Daly as a home winner and did it at Royal Portrush.
'The Brad' (pictured right) shot a closing 70 for a 290 total to pip Belgium's Flory van Donck by a stroke. Bradshaw's second Irish Open win also came in the North – at Belvoir Park in 1949, the year of his infamous 'ball in a bottle' incident in the British Open at Sandwich.
CHRISTY O'CONNOR JNR, WOODBROOK 1975
At the time: Christy, a charismatic character, turned pro in 1967, but had still to win a top European Tour event.
Open highlight? Carrolls revived the tournament in 1975 after a gap of 22 years and Woodbrook was the venue. Irish fans flocked to see the top international players, including recently crowned British Open champion Tom Watson and Tony Jacklin, but 27-year-old Christy O'Connor Junior had the champagne corks popping.
Christy had two scares – the first when his beautifully-struck seven-iron to the 72nd hole sent the ball into the spectators at the back of the green. Luckily, he got a free drop and could afford a bogey five to pip Harry Bannerman by a shot. Amid the celebrations, there was a bomb scare, and the presentation was delayed for an hour. Happily, it was a false alarm and the day ended on a happy note for Christy and all the O'Connor clan.
BEN CRENSHAW, PORTMARNOCK 1976
At the time: Masters champion of '76. His appearance at Portmarnock was a great coup for the tournament sponsors.
Open highlight? 'Gentle Ben' was value for money as he became the first American to triumph in the Irish Open. He described the famous par-3 15th at Portmarnock as one of the best holes he had ever played – even though he took a double-bogey five there in the final round.
Crenshaw missed the green with his tee shot and used his putter four times before getting the ball into the hole, but a superb bunker shot to five feet and a par putt on the 16th steadied his nerve "It was the greatest bunker shot I've played," said Crenshaw, "and I'd never hit it as good again if I tried it 50 times."
At the time: Torrance was a ferocious competitor, but a crowd favourite who had not won on Tour since 1976.
Open highlight? Torrance, the smiling assassin, carved up the links to shoot 67 in the second round, which included an eagle two on the par-4 eighth hole. The Scot went on to win by five shots from Nick Faldo, in the process setting a new four-round aggregate of 276, 12-under par.
In 1995, he won again at Mount Juliet, becoming the oldest winner at the age of 44 years and 319 days.
At the time: Popular with the crowds, but had messed up on the final hole in 1978 when he had a chance to beat Ken Brown.
Open highlight? Despite requiring overnight treatment for a back injury prior to the last round, and beset by pitching woes – he went from four ahead after 11 to one ahead playing the final hole, O'Leary's 73 for 287 got the job done. The Dubliner thus became the first Irishman to win since Christy Junior in '75, but nobody expected we would have to wait until 2007 for another home victory!
ROYAL DUBLIN 1984
At the time: Recently joint second with Tom Watson to Seve in the British Open at St Andrews, Langer won the KLM Open the week before the Irish Open.
Open Highlight? The Dollymount links was pounded by Langer's ruthless, par-busting efficiency – 68 66 67 66. A four- round record total of 21-under par. Nearest challenger Mark James finished four shots behind the German.
The clincher came on the 500-yard, par-5 14th when Langer rolled in a 16-footer for an eagle three. A huge roar erupted from the enthralled gallery. "I knew then I would become champion," he declared afterwards.
ROYAL DUBLIN 1985
At the time: A four-time Major champion, and the 1983 Irish Open winner, Seve was already a legend and hugely popular in Ireland.
Open highlight? Seve, the maestro, was at his marvellous best when he turned almost certain defeat into a stunning victory.
He was out on the course, grinding and scowling his way around after bogeys on the 12th and 13th holes. In the media tent, '84 winner and clubhouse leader Bernhard Langer was describing how he shot 63 in the last round. Langer's caddy, Pete Coleman, was preparing to head for the airport.
With four holes to play, Seve was three shots behind Langer ... then bam! bam! bam! – birdies on 15, 16 and 17.
Par on 18 sufficed for a sudden-death play-off which Seve won with a birdie on the second tie hole. What a champion. "I feel like I can fight Barry McGuigan ... maybe I last one round," he quipped.
JOSE MARIA OLAZABAL, PORTMARNOCK 1990
At the time: Ollie was 24 and a top European Tour player who had played on two Ryder Cup teams, including the historic 1987 first win on American soil.
Open highlight? Nine years earlier, Olazabal had been roundly trounced by the challenge of Portmarnock amid gales and rain when he played in the world junior championships, but he finally got the measure of the venerable links.
The Spaniard made his Irish Open debut in 1985 at Royal Dublin as British Amateur champion and was delighted to finally emulate his great buddy and mentor Seve Ballesteros with this victory. "I have tried so hard to win this trophy. I have been in contention many times and I am very happy to win," he said.
MOUNT JULIET, 1993
At the time: Faldo was the dominant player in the game, with five Major titles on his CV, and two successive wins at the Irish Open in Killarney in 1991 and '92.
Open highlight? His triumph at Mount Juliet gave Faldo a hat-trick of Irish Open titles. He did it the hard way by firing a splendid 65 in the last round.
That put Faldo into a play-off with Jose Maria Olazabal and the Englishman's inner steel saw him through to victory on the second extra hole.
DRUIDS GLEN, 1999
At the time: Garcia, a former British Amateur champion, was a fledgling professional who joined the paid ranks in April, 1999.
Open highlight? Amid the recent controversy with Tiger Woods and his defeatist demeanour around Major championships, it's hard to recall just what a shining star Sergio (pictured left) was when he became the youngest Irish Open winner at the age of 19 years and 176 days.
El Nino blew away all challengers and the galleries loved it. "The crowd was amazing. It was like a second Sergio Garcia because they really helped me. They screamed when I holed putts. I will certainly remember this day and I hope to be back many more times," said the Spanish star.
FOTA ISLAND 2001
At the time: Amazingly, had gone 13 months without a win – this from a man who had been Europe's No 1 for seven successive years between 1993-99 and who was Irish Open champion at Druids Glen in 1996 and '97.
Open highlight? The winning machine was back in full swing – literally. Monty demolished the field to close with 66 to win by five shots on 18-under-par. He got a great reception from the galleries, despite fending off the challenge of Ireland's Padraig Harrington and Darren Clarke and Swede Niclas Fasth.
"This was quite possibly the most important victory of my career. Out of all the tournaments I have won, this is special. Not having won in Europe for 13 months, I began to wonder would it ever happen again," he said.
CARTON HOUSE, 2006
At the time: Clarke carried the hopes of Irish fans and led by two shots on six-under par for the tournament when play was halted on Sunday afternoon due to bad weather.
Open highlight? Big D wasn't a winner as events transpired, but he won huge credit for his adherence to the spirit of the game.
His ball lay in rough off the ninth fairway when play was stopped. Clarke duly marked it. When he returned the next day, the ball was in an almost perfect lie, but that wasn't how he had left it.
A Rules official told him he was entitled to play the ball as it was, but Clarke wouldn't hear of it. He pitched out on to the fairway, which was the shot he would have had to play the previous evening. It was a self-penalising action, but Clarke had no regrets, despite ending up in third place behind winner Thomas Bjorn and runner-up Paul Casey.
ADARE MANOR, 2007
At the time: Harrington was the star of Irish golf, a multi-event winner on both sides of the Atlantic and had played on three winning Ryder Cup teams.
Open highlight? Mark the date: Sunday, May 21, 2007, the day a 25-year wait for a home hero to emulate John O'Leary's 1982 success finally ended.
Welshman Bradley Dredge fought bravely and forced Harrington into a play-off, but succumbed at the first extra hole.
Shot-of-the-day was Harrington's eagle three at the par-5 ninth – a huge drive, followed by a 245 yard 5-wood shot to 10 feet and a putt safely slotted home. There was still a long way to go, but that was a crucial hole for the eventual champion.
COUNTY LOUTH, 2009
At the time: Lowry was a 22-year-old amateur. He was an established Irish international, a former Irish Close champion and a Walker Cup candidate, but making the cut at Baltray would be a great achievement.
Open highlight? Amazingly, Lowry produced a sensational performance, opening with a 62 and following up with 67, 71 and 71 for 17-under par to tie with England's Robert Rock. A massive crowd including hordes of Offaly folk were entranced by the drama of extra holes, with Lowry finally shaking off Rock with a par five on the third tie-hole.