Graeme McDowell backs Royal County Down as Open Championship venue
Former US Open champion Graeme McDowell believes Royal County Down could become the second course in Northern Ireland on the Open Championship rota.
Royal Portrush was added to the rota last year - joining Troon, St Andrews, Muirfield, Turnberry, Sandwich, Lytham, Hoylake, Birkdale and Carnoustie - and will stage the Open in 2019.
And Portrush native McDowell thinks this week's venue for the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open could become the 11th course on that list.
"It's great to be back here," McDowell said. "Obviously Portrush a few years ago (staging the Irish Open in front of record crowds in 2012) put Northern Ireland golf on the map from the point of view of what we are capable of and led to things like the Open Championship coming back to Portrush, and I really believe that County Down can be a runner for an Open Championship.
"I'm a little biased towards Portrush of course, but there's something about this golf course that I love. I love the elevation changes. I love the bunkering. It's a much tougher golf course.
"This will be a really, really great showcase I think for golf and Ireland in general."
Portrush members had to agree to building two new holes in order to stage the Open, while it remains to be seen whether Royal County Down can support the infrastructure required to host a major championship.
Spectator numbers have been limited to 20,000 a day this week, but two-time Open winner Padraig Harrington said: "I think this golf course is capable of hosting any tournament.
"Portrush was always thought of as a great links golf course and the questions were can they host the event and the infrastructure for an Open Championship. And I assume that's the same question at Royal County Down and that's why we're here for an Irish Open.
"If they do such a good job like Royal Portrush in 2012, it really puts their name out there as, yeah, not just do we have a great golf course but we can host a great event like the Open Championship."
Harrington won the Irish Open in 2007, while McDowell's sixth place last year was his first top-10 finish in 13 appearances.
"A lot of that is down to wanting it too badly and wanting to perform for the home fans too much and maybe that expectation level has just been a little too high," McDowell admitted.
"It's been a quiet year and I would love to kickstart my summer off with a big week here. I've been working really hard on my game and I really feel like it's turning the corner."