Wednesday 21 March 2018

Westwood answers Rory's call and the lure of Royal Co Down

Lee Westwood says Royal Co Down has 'legendary status'. Photo: REUTERS/Fadi Al-Assaad
Lee Westwood says Royal Co Down has 'legendary status'. Photo: REUTERS/Fadi Al-Assaad

William S Callahan

With a doff of the cap to his friend and sparring partner Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood confirmed last night that he'll make his first appearance in six years in May's Irish Open.

Former World No 1 Westwood shared the lead through 36 holes of his defence at the Maybank Malaysian Open but paused after yesterday's second round 67 to commit to the May 28-31 tournament at Royal Co Down.

Having already persuaded American Rickie Fowler to return for the first time since the 2007 Walker Cup, McIlroy, fronting the Irish Open through his charitable foundation, again delivered on his promise to lure top players to the event.

That it's on one of the world's great links also convinced Florida resident Westwood to stay on the week after the BMW PGA at Wentworth and play the Irish Open for the first time since 2009 at Baltray.

"Royal Co Down has legendary status," said Westwood, Though he played the Amateur Championship at Royal Portrush in 1993, he's never performed as a pro in Ulster. Still, he's enjoyed success on this island, winning the European Open back to back at The K Club in 1999 and 2000 and as part of Ian Woosnam's Ryder Cup-winning team there in 2006. Finn Mikko Ilonen also confirmed he'll defend the Irish Open title he won at Fota Island.

As a fabulous 65 propelled Spain's Alejando Canizares into a share of the lead at Kuala Lumpur, Peter Lawrie soared into a tie for fifth on seven-under with a second round of 66.

In going bogey-free for the first time in 120 tournament rounds dating back to the 2013 Dubai Desert Classic, Lawrie (40) gave his confidence a massive boost after 20 traumatic months culminated in the loss of his tour card last November.

"I've been in the doldrums since the 2013 Irish Open but my swing is in good shape now and my confidence is coming back. Hopefully. I can keep my name up there," said Lawrie, who was close to a hole-in-one at 15 when his tee-shot hit the pin.

Lawrie received sponsor's invites to play Qatar, Dubai and Malaysia, making the cut in all three. A top-five finish tomorrow would get him into next week's Thailand Classic, while he's been invited to the Hero Indian Open in a fortnight.

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