| 15.5°C Dublin

Pádraig backing Major bid

NOT so long ago, it would have been inconceivable that Royal Portrush could host the Irish Open, as it is doing this week, let alone the British Open, which it wants to do for the first time since 1951.

Matters have changed radically across the border, with Britain's queen due to shake hands with Martin McGuinness in Belfast, a sign of the progress continually being made.

Pádraig Harrington, a Royal & Ancient ambassador, says the R&A is taking Portrush's Open ambition "very seriously" and the governing body has sent a team of observers to the first top-flight professional event in the North for 59 years.

Harrington has become close to Peter Dawson and has talked to the R&A's chief executive about the possibility of the game's oldest major returning to what he describes as "my favourite course in the world".

"I don't know much about event management, but I do know as a professional golfer that this course is easily capable of staging The Open," Harrington said. "Certainly, the R&A will be impressed that there will be 27,000 people here."

An estimated 5,000 turned up yesterday, unheard of at this stage at a European Tour event, and the sold-out signs will elicit big ticks on the R&A's checklist; so long as the tight links can cope.

The economics remain the big stumbling block, although as Harrington said, "the R&A are able to take a financial hit in a given year".

The three-time Major champion played a practice round with Keegan Bradley yesterday and reported that last year's US PGA champion "was taken aback" by the support.

It seems a different world to the old days. "I had a great time coming up here as an amateur, but I remember one day there was a roadblock and a policeman told us it was 'just a small problem'," said Harrington.

"It was a 500lb bomb on the road - just a small problem then! But people just got on with it and we played. Golfers are harmless anyway."