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Irish Open: Sponsor’s exit could open door for Northern Ireland

By Peter Hutcheon

The surprise withdrawal of ‘3’ from their sponsorship of the Irish Open just two years into a three-year deal could pave the way for the tournament to come to Northern Ireland.

As things stand the tournament will not be held at all next season unless a major financial backer can be found after the telecommunications company’s decision.

But last month both Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke hinted that a deal to bring a European Tour event this side of the border was close to completion.

The new Lough Erne Resort, with it’s Sir Nick Faldo-designed championship layout, is widely tipped to host a major event sooner rather than later and is already showing up in magazines like Golf Monthly and Irish Golf Digest in their lists of top British and Irish courses.

Of course, a major backer would need to be found and that is much easier said than done, but the Ulster pair have said that they would not hesitate to call in a few favours and ensure a top-class field.

US Open champion McDowell still has his sights set on the Race to Dubai money-list title in the meantime, and has not yet given up hope of chasing down leader Adam Scott in the closing stages of the weather-delayed Barclays Singapore Open which resumed for a fifth day this morning.

The lengthy delay has not done Graeme McDowell any favours so far. He was observed fast asleep in the locker room having just played five holes of his final round. When he awoke and returned to the course at 5.15pm local time, McDowell found himself well behind Australian Scott.

Scott is a former back-to-back winner of the event and had spent much of the delay in conversation in the large open-air veranda with Ian Poulter who is looking to retain the title he won last year.

The Australian went back out to quickly establish a two-stroke lead over Poulter and four over McDowell. By the time play ended for the day, Scott had picked up three birdies to move three strokes clear of Poulter on 17-under par through eight holes, with McDowell at 12-under par after nine.

“It's been such a stop-start day you just can't get any rhythm but Adam's just blowing us away at the moment,” said McDowell.

“But I've still got nine holes to play and I still have not written off the chance of winning this.”

Germany's Martin Kaymer — McDowell's rival for the Race to Dubai title — returned to the course and the seventh green, and heralded his intentions by knocking in his 20-foot birdie putt. Kaymer then grabbed back-to-back birdies at 10 and 11 to move to nine under par after 12 holes.

Meanwhile, Tiger Woods provided the large galleries at the Victoria Golf Club with something to remember as he shot his equal-best round of the year, a six-under-par 65, at the Australian Masters.

The 34-year-old, who was reportedly paid a $3m appearance fee, produced some fireworks down the stretch, highlighted by an eagle two on the par-four 15th, a birdie on the par-five 17th and an eagle three on the par-five 18th to finish on a seven-under 277.

After entering the final round 10 shots behind leader Adam Bland, he walked off just three shots off and with a sniff of victory should Bland or then second-placed Daniel Gaunt succumb to the pressure.

As it turned out, Stuart Appleby also shot a six-under 65 to overtake the faltering Bland and Gaunt in the closing holes to win the title by a single shot.

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