Australia’s Lucas Herbert succeeded where Greg Norman failed 26 years ago and claimed the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Mount Juliet.
But while the 25-year-old world No 91 was thrilled to close with a four-under 68 to win wire-to-wire by three shots from Sweden’s world No 611 Rikard Karlberg on 19-under and become the third Australian to win the event after Ossie Pickworth in 1950 and Brett Rumford in 2004, the weak field has accelerated calls for a change of date.
With just four of the world’s top 75 in action, Shane Lowry and Rory McIlroy both believe the week after the game’s final Major would be better with Graeme McDowell, a potential host next year, backing them to the hilt. “Unfortunately when we turn the TV next Thursday we are going to see a stark contrast and see how bad this field really is compared to what they have next week in Scotland,” McDowell said. “So it is a bad date, there is no doubt about it.
“I always think the week after a Major is very hard. But if Rory and Shane want it the week after the Open, to me, having Rory and Shane here is 75 per cent of the challenge. I’d be making everything they want happen.”
The Irish Open was played the week after The Open in 2003 and 2004 and while it has switched to May or early July in recent years, Lowry feels the week after The Open is better.
McIlroy insists it’s up to the European Tour but he agreed something has to give and vowed to continue to support the event. “Ultimately, it’s up to the European Tour and where they see this event,” McIlroy said.
“I don’t think this is the ideal date. I don’t know what the ideal date is. I mean Scottish Open is locked in before The Open, which is understandable. World rankings points for first place next week is close to 60, this week it’s 28.
“I wouldn’t mind seeing it going back to the week after The Open but whether that encourages a few guys to stay one more week, I don’t know.
“Having this chat with Shane the other day, being after The Open might be nice for us. Maybe selfishly, we could relax more, having the last Major of the season over.
“Our focus is on here but with one eye towards what’s going to happen in a couple of weeks. We’ve tried a few dates. In May it worked when I was hosting and said I’d do favours for other players and they came over.
“Selfishly, I can’t keep doing that every year. It should stay on the schedule, it should certainly be one of the strongest events in Europe because it’s been on the schedule for so long. That’s something the European Tour will have to talk about.”
McIlroy might have missed the cut in the Irish Open more than at any other event but he vowed to continue supporting it, admitting that skipping Lahinch in 2019 was a mistake.
“Of course, I’ll try to play every Irish Open if it makes sense and suits what I’m going to do. There’s been a couple I’ve missed – last year at Galgorm with Covid and then the decision I made not to play at Lahinch thinking, ‘Ok, well, I’m going to be playing [The Open] in Ireland in a couple of weeks’ time.’
“I wanted to play Scottish and maybe three in a row wasn’t right prep. In hindsight, it probably wasn’t the right idea. That’s why I decided to add Scottish this week, so I’ll play three weeks in a row.
“I’ve played every one from that. I’ve no plans to make it a regular thing to skip. I love playing in front of these crowds. I wish I gave them more to shout about this week.”
McDowell was due to host last year but will likely step in next year and while he’d love to return to Northern Ireland with Portstewart a more likely venue than Royal Portrush should the R&A take The Open back to the Dunluce links in 2025, he has no objections to Mount Juliet.
“I haven’t been involved in talks but it would be nice to get this event back on a large scale.
“I hope Dubai Duty Free stay on board. Obviously we’ve lost the Rolex Series tag. That’s disappointing. If it comes back, good.
“I really enjoyed this week and the hotel. If you are going to be in prison for the week, it might as well be a five-star prison camp.”