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Portrush inspired choice for Irish Open, says Padraig Harrington

ONE practice round today was enough to tell Padraig Harrington that it is no ordinary Irish Open this week.

For the first time since 1953 the event is being played in Northern Ireland over a Royal Portrush links the Dubliner rates his favourite in the whole of golf.

"It seems like it was an inspired decision," Harrington said after playing with USPGA champion Keegan Bradley, whose Irish roots led to him taking up a chance to play.

"I'm thrilled it's here and I don't think you could surpass the atmosphere that there's going to be."

For the first time a "regular" European Tour event is a sell-out, with crowds totalling 100,000 over the week ready to roar on the players whose recent successes prompted the move - earlier than generally expected - to stage it north of the border again.

Following Harrington's three major wins Graeme McDowell became the first Northern Irishman to capture one since Fred Daly in 1947 when he landed the US Open two years ago.

Then came Rory McIlroy's runaway triumph in the same event last summer and a month later, of course, Darren Clarke became Open champion 20 years after making his debut.

It was in January that the Tour announced the decision to bring the Irish Open back north.

"It was as big a surprise to me as anybody else," added Harrington, who hopes that it leads to the Open Championship returning not just in his lifetime, but during his career.

Portrush played host when Max Faulkner won in 1951, but it has not been back since. Political unrest has been one factor, of course, but there was also the growth of The Open into a major sporting occasion.

Whether the course has the infrastructure remains the big debating point, but the Royal and Ancient Club, organisers of The Open, are watching this week with interest.