Thursday 14 December 2017

Augusta hero Willett primed for Irish Open

Masters champion Danny Willett waves after winning the Masters golf tournament on Sunday. Photo: Jae C. Hong/AP Photo
Masters champion Danny Willett waves after winning the Masters golf tournament on Sunday. Photo: Jae C. Hong/AP Photo
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

Masters champion Danny Willett is on course to play the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at the K Club from May 19-22.

Amid the euphoria of Willett's stunning success, the first question to his manager Andrew 'Chubby' Chandler centred on whether the Englishman's plans for the season would change.

Chandler confirmed that Willett will tee it up in Straffan as scheduled.

"Danny is not going to change one bit. He is going to play in Switzerland, France, Ireland, the BMW, which is exactly the same schedule he had three months ago," said Chandler.

Willett, the first European to win the Masters since Jose Maria Olazabal in 1999, and the first English golfer to don the Green Jacket since Nick Faldo in 1996, can expect the Irish galleries to flock to see him play.

Olazabal, who won his first Masters in 1994, was the last winner at Augusta to play the Irish Open which Mount Juliet hosted that year.

Willett's presence in the field along with home challengers including Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, Shane Lowry and Pádraig Harrington enhances the prestige of the Irish Open which took on new momentum when the Rory McIlroy Foundation and Dubai Duty Free came on board.

Bank of Ireland have also signed a three-year deal with the tournament as one of the official sponsors.

That's the good news for The K Club. The bad news for the Lough Erne Resort, which was designed by Nick Faldo, is that it will not host the Irish Open in 2017 as scheduled.

European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said: "During a recent visit to the Lough Erne Resort, I was delighted to meet with the owners and to learn more about their significant investment plans for the golf course and hotel. It is a beautiful facility with an outstanding championship golf course designed by Sir Nick Faldo.

"While the 2017 Irish Open will not be staged at Lough Erne, the European Tour looks forward to working with the new ownership consortium, and I am confident that the Lough Erne Resort will host an event with the European Tour in the future.

"Details of the 2017 venue will be announced in due course, but in the meantime we are solely focused on ensuring that the 2016 tournament, which will be staged at The K Club in Co Kildare in six weeks' time, is a great success."

The scheduled return to Northern Ireland for next year should go ahead as planned. Royal Portrush and Royal County Down have already hosted the Open.

Another links option might be Portstewart which hosted the British Amateur Championship in 2014.

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