Saturday 24 February 2018

Woods remains loyal to McManus' charitable vision

Adare Manor will be at the centre of the golfing universe this week, writes Dermot Gilleece

W ith the evocative words, "something wonderful has happened here", Keith Wood captured the essence of its last staging. The former Ireland rugby captain was referring to the JP McManus Invitational Pro-am of 2005, which raised €31.5m for charities, largely in the Limerick area.

Five years on, Europe's biggest golf event of its kind returns to Adare Manor tomorrow and Tuesday with Tiger Woods heading a field of elite professionals. In theory, they're competing for a prize fund of €1m but one imagines the winning cheques being quietly diverted to the charity pool, as has happened in the past.

Apart from its very significant social dimension, the event is also remarkable in pure golfing terms. For instance, outside of the Open championship, what tournament could claim the appearance of a newly-crowned US Open champion for three successive stagings?

This pro-am can. We remember Woods' arrival at Limerick GC in 2000 only a few weeks after a truly sensational, 15-stroke triumph in the US Open at Pebble Beach. Then, in 2005, Michael Campbell was in the field at Adare Manor as a most improbable but thoroughly deserved winner at Pinehurst No 2. Now we have Graeme McDowell making a competitive return after the heroics of Pebble two weeks ago.

McManus has reason to be proud of a professional field which contains no fewer than 12 of the current top 15 in the world. And excitement of a different kind is certain to be generated by amateur celebrities who include actors Hugh Grant, Samuel L Jackson, Aidan Quinn and Michael Douglas; dancer supreme, Michael Flatley, and Ireland and Lions rugby second-row, Paul O'Connell. They will be joined by Martin O'Neill, Niall Quinn and Harry and Jamie Redknapp from the cross-channel soccer fraternity.

"The great support we've got has probably been helped by the experience of previous years," says McManus, who has clearly pulled off something of a coup in the return of Woods for a third time, given the events of the last seven months. "Though I spoke briefly with Tiger at the Masters in April, we didn't mention the pro-am. But if he wasn't playing, I knew he would inform me. Knowing Tiger as I do, if he had a decision made that he wasn't coming, I would be the first to know. I was always confident he would make every effort to be here.

"I have long held the belief that you get most out of people by not expecting too much. You'll never be disappointed, anyway. That's been my experience up to now."

And what about the auction which, in the past, has been a money-spinning highlight of the Tuesday night banquet? "There will be no auction this year," McManus replied. "These are tough times and, you know, I have to be more than grateful with people's response so far."

In terms of matching the fund from 2005, the absence of an auction is partially offset by a 25 per cent increase in the entry fee for three-member amateur teams to €125,000. And they're sold out. Then there is the admission charge which takes the form of €50 for a cap for both days. These can be bought at the event and are colour-coded, representing each Munster county as well as the Ireland and Munster rugby colours.

Leading professionals include Woods, McDowell, Paul Casey, John Daly, Rory McIlroy, Camilo Villegas, Ian Poulter, Dustin Johnson, Jim Furyk, Ernie Els, Luke Donald, Lucas Glover and the 2005 winner, Pádraig Harrington. Among other Irish professionals in action are Darren Clarke, Paul McGinley, Peter Lawrie and Damien McGrane.

Since its first staging at Limerick GC in 1990, the growth of the event has been remarkable. That was when a group of European Tour journeymen and Irish club professionals came together to help raise £1m for charity. The figure was boosted to £2.9m in 1995 when the scoring honours were shared by Ryder Cup representative, Paul Broadhurst, and fellow Englishman, Richard Boxall. In fact, Boxall, who is familiar these days as a golf pundit on Sky Television, was among the survivors from the inaugural staging when he was second leading professional while also bringing in the winning team.

By 2000, the arrival of Woods and other leading campaigners from the PGA Tour in the US made for the greatest array of golfing talent assembled in this country since the Canada Cup at Portmarnock in 1960. Not even the 1970 Alcan Golfer of the Year tournament at the same venue could have matched the glittering line-up at Limerick GC.

Sadly, that particular staging was also memorable for the absence of Payne Stewart, who was killed the previous autumn in a freak air accident. It meant that behind all the fun, friendships and phenomenal scoring associated with the pro-am was a gathering of sharply contrasting mood. Woods and some of his colleagues travelled to Waterville for the unveiling of a special bronze statue of a player whom the local community had taken to their hearts. Appropriately, the official unveiling was performed by his widow, Tracey.

When Harrington carded a course-record second round of 63 to win the 2005 staging, we hoped it could be an omen of great things to follow at St Andrews a week later. As it happened, there would be no Open for Harrington that year after his father, Paddy, succumbed to cancer.

Instead, victory on the Old Course went to Woods who had displayed solid rather than spectacular form at Adare, with rounds of 67 and 74 to be 11 strokes behind the Dubliner.

Clearly, the significance of pre-Open form in a pro-am on tree-lined parkland can be overstated. But for the more critical observer, it will still lend added spice to a memorable occasion. And seven-handicapper Keith Wood has assured me he will be there again, with two days' practice at Adare Manor under his belt.

Sunday Independent

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