Tiger Woods could be set to play at Irish Open as major sponsorship boost announced
Tiger Woods could send the Duty Free Irish Open into orbit by using it as a warm-up for a crack at his fourth Open Championship in July.
The 14-time Major winner yesterday confirmed his entry for The Open at Carnoustie but with Pádraig Harrington insisting that the American superstar just needs to play more events to become a contender for that elusive 15th Major, speculation is raging that he could touch down at Ballyliffin in Donegal from July 5-8.
The Dubai Duty Irish Open is now a $7 million Rolex Series event with host Rory McIlroy and defending champion Jon Rahm the first two big names confirmed.
The event received a huge boost yesterday with sponsors Dubai Duty Free committing to a four-year extension of its title sponsorship through to 2022 - two years guaranteed until 2020 with an option for another two years - with a minimum $7m prize fund guaranteed.
Player announcements are expected over the next few weeks and organisers admitted yesterday that the presence of a massive star like Woods to send ticket sales through the roof.
"Any event that attracts someone like Tiger Woods is catapulted to another level," said championship director Simon Alliss. "I'd love it to happen.
"Rory is committed to helping build the strongest field we can get and I am sure he has taken the time to chat with the guys on the PGA Tour informally.
"But we have put no responsibility on him to do it. We have a very committed Player Relations department out in America and that's their job.
"The US Open is coming up next so players' schedules are not yet decided. It would be amazing if Tiger did commit. There are a lot of rumours and there is a lot of speculation and if news comes our way, trust me, we will be shouting about it.
"Either way, there is enormous expectation about the event and we expect healthy numbers - many thousands of fans - to come to Ballyliffin in July.
"I think it is going to be an incredible event and it will surprise everybody."
Harrington knows the benefits of playing a warm-up for The Open on links terrain having won the Irish PGA at The European Club before lifting the Claret Jug in 2007 and 2008.
But speaking at Carnoustie yesterday, where he replayed the play-off holes where he beat Sergio Garcia to win the first of his three Major titles 11 years ago, the Dubliner insisted that Woods can win another Major if he plays regular events in the build-up.
“I actually think his chances of winning are good,” Harrington said at event for his club sponsors Wilson Golf. “His chances of winning a Major are maybe better than winning a regular event. Two months of playing and two-and-a-half months before he gets to The Open, he could be right on form and ready to go in that.
“He is going to win tournaments, 100 per cent yes. And I think Majors would be easier for him to win because they are harder for others to win.”