Friday 23 February 2018

Harrington upbeat about Irish Open

Karl MacGinty

THOUGH exasperated by elements of his own performance during a disappointing first round 74 at the Dubai World Championship, Padraig Harrington was decidedly upbeat when the conversation turned to another vexed question -- the future of the Irish Open.

The future of the event was threatened by the withdrawal of sponsors '3' but Harrington was greatly encouraged by the European Tour's commitment to the Irish Open following a meeting this week with Chief Executive George O'Grady.

O'Grady spoke with each of the Irish players at the Earth Course this week, satisfying them with the Tour's desire to build on the strong foundation laid by last summer's hugely successful staging in Killarney. Principally, the Tour have kept the same August slot on the calendar for the Irish Open in the hope of finding sponsors capable of stumping up a purse of at least €2m (it was €3m in 2010) to justify such a prestigious slot on the schedule.

"I met with George and there is a plan in hand but the Tour badly need to find a sponsor," said Harrington. "Yet '3' have brought the Irish Open to a level where it has potential and must be regarded as a big event again in Europe.

"It was an exciting event last year at Killarney. The crowds were superb. It was a profitable gate and a good return for the tournament in that sense," he added. "Three years ago, it was tough to find a sponsor, but it should not be so difficult now.

"There certainly are a few sponsors being talked about. Though nobody has jumped yet, we still have been given plenty of time to find one," explained Harrington, revealing he and his management team at IMG have already sent feelers to the international business community.

The Dubliner's happy to serve as an official host to the event (probably back at Killarney), "though I could also see Darren Clarke or Graeme McDowell or Rory McIlroy doing the same in the North."

While Clarke said: "I'd do anything to get it to Portrush," McIlroy's focus is on his playing career, saying: "That's the Tour's job, maybe in 20 years."

Harrington was "disgusted" with himself for petulantly tapping in a putt one-handed yesterday for the first time in 14 years on Tour. "I was frustrated at the time, it was a lack of discipline," he said of the incident on the 15th green.

Clarke and McIlroy were annoyed with their performance on the greens after first round 71s left them tied 17th on one-under.

Irish Independent

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