The Race to Dubai heads to Northern Ireland this week for the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation. Here’s why you should be watching all the action from Portstewart Golf Club...
Rory McIlroy is defending his title
Tournament host Rory McIlroy delighted home fans at The K Club last year as the Northern Irishman clinched his 13th European Tour victory – and a maiden Irish Open title – with a final round of 69, which included a sensational five-wood to the 18th green to set up a closing eagle. That approach was later named the 2016 European Tour Shot of the Year, while the win provided a springboard for McIlroy to enjoy a fantastic run of form in the second half of the year, which eventually saw him crowned as the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup champion. His 2017 season is yet to take off, however, with a persistent rib injury interrupting much of his campaign so far. The four-time Major winner has now slipped to no. 4 in the world rankings and missed the cut at last month’s US Open, but a successful defence of this title on home soil could be the catalyst he needs for another big end to the season.
The field is one of the best ever assembled for the Irish Open
In addition to McIlroy, this week’s tournament boasts some of the biggest names in golf. World number two Hideki Matsuyama – who finished runner-up at last month’s US Open – will be making his Irish Open debut, while European fans will also get another chance to watch rising Spanish star Jon Rahm, who has taken the PGA Tour by storm since turning professional last year and has already risen to no. 11 in the world rankings. Race to Dubai leader Tommy Fleetwood – who last week won the French Open – will also be teeing it up alongside Olympic champion Justin Rose, Ryder Cup stars Thomas Pieters, Rafa Cabrera Bello and Ian Poulter, former world no. 1 Lee Westwood and Major champions Danny Willett, Graeme McDowell, Padraig Harrington and Darren Clarke.
The course is spectacular
Portstewart Golf Club was founded in 1894, but this will be the first time it has hosted a European Tour event in its illustrious history. The spectacular Strand Course, which was extensively redeveloped in the 1980s and hosted the 2014 Amateur Championship, is set amidst towering sand dunes on the Londonderry coast and offers panoramic views across the Atlantic. The classic links layout boasts one of the finest front-nines in the world, with the 427-yard par-four first undoubtedly among golf’s best opening holes, and is sure to provide a stiff challenge for the world’s leading players, especially if the wind blows.
It will be a key tournament in the Race to Dubai
As one of the eight premium tournaments in the European Tour’s new Rolex Series, the Irish Open offers a minimum prize fund of US$7 million, making it a hugely significant event in the Race to Dubai. England’s Fleetwood currently leads the standings after a very impressive start to the year, which has seen him secure victories in Abu Dhabi and France, as well as top-four finishes at the US Open and WGC-Mexico Championship. Defending Race to Dubai champion Henrik Stenson has struggled to find his best form so far in 2017, but a strong showing in Northern Ireland could easily turn his season around ahead of the defence of his Open Championship title at Royal Birkdale later this month, while the likes of Rahm, Rose and Alex Noren could also launch themselves into contention for the Race to Dubai title with a victory at Portstewart.
The event will benefit the Rory Foundation
A percentage of all ticket sales will go directly to the Rory Foundation – the charity founded by McIlroy that aims to advance opportunities for children who are suffering from ill health or who are unfairly disadvantaged. “We view the Irish Open as a platform for positive change, enabling the Rory Foundation to activate innovative and impactful initiatives in the areas of most need,” explains Barry Funston, CEO of the Rory Foundation. “Having the tournament return to Northern Ireland is very special to us, and I have no doubt that huge crowds will come along to the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open to see Rory defend his title on the links of Portstewart.”
The Dubai Duty Free Irish Open Hosted by the Rory Foundation takes place from 6 to 9 July at Portstewart Golf Club