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McGinley: Irish Open will be a success despite McIlroy 'body blow'

The former European Ryder Cup captain says the tournament will always be bigger than one player.

McGinley speaking during Tuesday's press conference at Lahinch.
McGinley speaking during Tuesday's press conference at Lahinch.
Image: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

TOURNAMENT HOST PAUL McGinley is confident this week’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Open will be a success despite the absence of Rory McIlroy, who delivered ‘a huge body blow’ by not playing in Lahinch. 

McGinley, who has this year taken over from McIlroy as tournament host, pointed to the forecast weekend sell-outs at the County Clare links to back up his assertion that the Irish Open will always be bigger than one player.

McIlroy opted to skip this week to use the Scottish Open as preparation for the Open in Portrush, causing annoyance among some quarters despite the world number three’s role in helping to revive the tournament in recent years. 

“Well, yes. Rory’s obviously a huge body blow,” McGinley said. “Of course there are challenges, and that was a huge challenge, particularly so early after the announcement that we were coming here, that he wasn’t playing.

“A guy like that who, outside of Tiger, is probably the most charismatic in the world, he’s from Ireland, and he decides not to play this year, of course it’s a body blow.

“But I think we’ve recovered from that strongly and the fact we’ve sell-out crowds is a validation of that, that the Irish Open will always be bigger than any one player. Rory will be the first person to agree with that.”

With a field containing 12 of the world’s top 50 players on show in Lahinch, including home favourites like Shane Lowry and Pádraig Harrington, thousands are expected to descend on the west from tomorrow onwards.

“We’ve had great champions here in this Open over the years — Nick Faldo, Seve, Langer, Olazabal, all the greats, they’ve all won it. Rory’s won it,” McGinley continued.

“And I think in 20 years’ time, when Rory’s kind of winding down a little bit, there will be another young Rory McIlroy coming along, and that’s just the evolution.

Shane Lowry signs autographs on the 3rd green Shane Lowry signs autographs for young fans at Lahinch. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“The game is always bigger than any one player, and I think we’ve the validation of the sell-out crowds that we’re anticipating is an indication that we haven’t been too much affected by Rory not playing.”

With McIlroy absent, much of the home interest will be on Lowry, Harrington and Graeme McDowell, while Paul Dunne, Gavin Moynihan and Seamus Power are also among the field.

Lowry is coming off the back of an excellent first half of the season and is arguably in the form of his career, with the Offaly native rising back up to 35th in the world.

Among Thursday’s early starters, Lowry is bidding to record his second win of the season 10 years on from his famous victory as an amateur in Baltray and admits the weight of expectation rests easy on his shoulders this week.

“I don’t feel it as a responsibility,” he says. “There’s plenty of us here. Paddy [Harrington], obviously the career Paddy has had, I’m sure you can pass [the mantle] onto him if you want to. And G-Mac and Dunners to an extent, he’ll have his following down here.

To be honest, I have thought of it. Like, I obviously know Rory is not here. And if anything the support I get around the golf course it might be bigger and better and maybe that might help me as well as them. But I haven’t really thought about it a whole lot.

“It’s great. Look, if I was coming in there in a different position and there was somebody else sitting there in my position, I’d be envious. So I should really be thankful and I’m lucky that I’m here.”

Lowry, playing alongside Tommy Fleetwood and defending champion Russell Knox, gets his first round underway at 8.40am.

“I’m feeling good. It’s probably the best, form wise, I’ve ever come into an Irish Open, I suppose, but I’m doing my best to try and play down expectations and just kind of go out there and enjoy it as much as I can,” he added.

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Ryan Bailey

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