Rory McIlroy returns to Ballyliffin Golf Club for the first time in 12 years and has been blow away by its beauty in the Donegal sun as he tees it up in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation – the fourth Rolex Series event of the season.
The Northern Irishman will make his first appearance in Europe since the BMW PGA Championship – where he finished as a runner-up behind Francesco Molinari – and having memorably won his home event at the K Club in 2016, the 29 year old will be looking to add to his 13 European Tour wins.
Joining the four-time Major Champion on the Inishowen peninsular is World Number Five Jon Rahm, who is defending in Ireland following his emphatic six-shot victory at Portstewart Golf Club last year.
The Spaniard, who followed in the footsteps of countrymen Seve Ballesteros, José María Olazábal and Sergio Garcia when he triumphed on the Emerald Isle, goes in search of a third Rolex Series title and has an opportunity to become the first player since Colin Montgomerie in 1996 and 1997 to win the historic event on successive occasions.
Former U.S. Open winner Graeme McDowell arrives in Ballyliffin intent on securing a place in The Open Championship – with spots open to the top three players this week not already exempt.
“This course is fantastic. I haven’t played here in 12 years and I’d sort of forgotten how good it was and how beautiful the area was.
“You know, it’s a tough track too. You can’t put it in the bunkers off the tee as they are really penal and you have to hit fairways.
“The greens are getting very firm and it’s getting bouncy out there, so it’s going to be a really good test this week.
“The sun is going to shine for the next four days as well, and it will only get firmer. That’s the way a links should play, and I think everyone’s looking forward to that.”
“To join an illustrious list of Spanish players who have won here was huge. It was a great honour to join that list and hopefully I can keep coming back and become a multiple champion like Seve was.
“I don’t know if it’s Spanish players, or just me and my character that really connects with the Irish people, but it’s amazing to be a champion and to be an Irish champion. To come back, and get the respect I’ve gotten, it’s absolutely mind-blowing.
“I think Ballyliffin is one of the most beautiful golf courses I’ve ever played, truly. It’s absolutely stunning. The views from the 14th tee and the seventh tee are probably some of the prettiest sights you’ll get in golf. To me it doesn’t get better in golf than a pretty view on a links course.”
“My game is in good shape and I made 19 birdies in France last week, but I just made too many mistakes and I’m certainly playing good enough golf to compete any week at the minute.
“I am certainly looking forward to a layout like this, which I think is a very tactical layout. It’s in great shape and you really have to position the ball well. I’m excited about the week.
“Carnoustie is a course I really feel like I could do well at, especially with an Open setup, and I would dearly love to be there. I feel like I’m playing well enough to compete on one of these next two weekends and love the way this place is set up.”