Sunday 21 January 2018

Clarke not giving up on Irish Open ambition

US Masters winner Jordan Spieth hits a shot during the first round of the RBC Heritage tournament
US Masters winner Jordan Spieth hits a shot during the first round of the RBC Heritage tournament
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

DARREN Clarke admits that time is running out on his dream to win the Irish Open.

At 47, and with 24 failed attempts on his CV, Clarke won't be the bookies' favourite at Royal County Down from May 28-31.

He is, however, especially motivated this year, and Clarke hopes it's a case of 'the old dog for the hard road' - or in this case, the hard links challenge at Newcastle.

"It is a very special tournament for me and one I have come close to a few times. I never quite managed to get over the hurdle.

"Any time we get back on a links is very special. Ireland has some of the very best links courses in the world, and Royal County Down is up at the very top of that list.


"It is a fantastic test, because you have to hit the ball up in the air off the tee.

"A lot of links courses give you the option to hit the ball very low whereas at Royal County Down you have to hit it up in the air, so it is demanding off the tee and the second shot," said Clarke.

The Dungannon native is full of admiration for Rory McIlroy's commitment via his charitable Foundation to making this a memorable tournament, sponsored by Dubai Duty Free.

"Rory is very proud of his Foundation, and obviously he started it at a very young age.

"The fact he has got so many of the world's top players coming to play is testament to how much they think of Rory, of the esteem that he is held in already.

"It is the strongest field for the Irish Open for a very long time and it's a huge positive for the European Tour because it gets so many world rankings (points) on one of the best golf courses in the world," said Clarke

The Northern Irish golfing hero is matched in his enthusiasm by two-time Major winner Martin Kaymer, who is looks forward to the 'buzz' that McIlroy has told him to expect at the Irish Open.

He said: "There is definitely a good feeling about this year's Irish Open and I think Rory has done a great job to get such a great field for the event and to create a really nice atmosphere about the tournament. He is very passionate about the tournament, and also the golf course at Royal County Down, so I am sure it will be a great week."

Luke Donald's last appearance in Ireland was in the winning 2006 Ryder Cup team at The K Club.

"My performances and results have been getting better and better recently and I am feeling very positive about a huge summer of golf ahead.

"The Irish Open will be a big part of that and I am looking forward to playing Royal County Down and some really 'old-school' links golf - I think the links golf factor will add a lot to the event and it's looking like it's going to be a great week," said Donald.

Patrick Reed, currently ranked 14th in the world rankings, became only the fourth player in the past 20 years to win four PGA Tour titles before the age of 25.

He joins Tiger Woods, Sergio Garcia and McIlroy in that elite group, and by winning the 2014 WGC-Cadillac Championship at the age of 23, Reed became the youngest winner of that championship.

His decision to play at RCD and the PGA Championship at Wentworth was hailed by Darren Clarke as a career-enhancing move.

"I think it is wonderful. If you take a look at what Tiger did to become the best player in the world. He played all over the world in different places, Patrick Reed is still at the early stages of his successful career.

"He is obviously taking that on board and he is looking to play more outside of America, which can only be good for events such as the Irish Open and the PGA.

"The fact we have got the likes of him coming over to play can only be good, it is great for the people to see the PGA Tour pros in action," said Clarke.

Tickets are limited to 20,000 a day and cost stg£30 per day, with season tickets at £75.

Irish Independent

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