McGrane up for Seapoint test
DAMIEN McGRANE returns to one of his favourite parts of the country this week hoping to lay claim to a title he has long coveted and set himself up for a thrilling climax to his season on the European Tour.
McGrane's a warm favourite for the 100th Ladbrokes Irish Professional Championship at Seapoint, though a stern challenge is expected from fellow Tour pro Shane Lowry, who pulled off one of the most sensational Irish Open victories in history over the perimeter fence at Baltray last year.
And we must not forget Des Smyth, a six-times winner of this event, who collaborated with Bettystown pal Des Brannigan in the design of Seapoint. Smyth came up trumps on the European Seniors Tour three weeks ago, proving there's a good deal of life yet in this wily and dogged 57-year-old.
McGrane, a qualified club pro himself, will also pay respect to the leaders in the PGA Irish Region's Order of Merit, colourfully known these days as the Lexus Race to Mount Juliet.
The 39-year-old Meathman tees it up in today's first round with David Mortimer and Damien McWilliams, second and third respectively to Waterville's David Higgins in the annual championship.
Yet McGrane's recent form fillip on Tour, including an impressive 36-hole surge into the top 10 at the Austrian Open, suggests he's ready to climb the European charts from his current 47th position in the Race to Dubai.
"This is where I started out. As a young child I would come here to play in Baltray," said McGrane yesterday. "Coming from the club pro background, I'd obviously like to bag the Irish PGA title," added the 2008 China Open champion, who has had a string of top-10 finishes at this event.
Lowry is on a four-week break at home trying to recover from burnout after playing 25 events already in a hectic first full season on Tour. "Anytime I'm home, it feels like a holiday," he quipped, suggesting he's also in the mood for a big performance this week.