Irish Open 2015: Golf stars Rickie Fowler, Sergio Garcia and Ernie Els are worth the ticket price alone
The last time Rickie Fowler was at Royal County Down, he was a very happy man.
He and his fellow American players had just defeated Great Britain and Ireland to win the Walker Cup.
That was back in 2007 and, like several of his teammates that day, he hasn’t really looked back.
It was supposed to be the Rory McIlroy show and his last hurrah in the amateur game, but it didn’t quite work out that way.
Looking now at the fortunes of the players on both sides since, it’s not hard to see why.
Fowler, Billy Horschel, Webb Simpson and Dustin Johnson have all gone on to establish themselves on the PGA Tour. Only McIlroy and to an extent Danny Willett have done the same from the home team.
Until Jordan Spieth leapt into the limelight with his superb display in winning the Masters, Fowler was touted as the man most likely to challenge McIlroy’s position as world number one.
He has a habit of cropping up prominently on the leaderboards at the majors and has chalked up six top ten finishes so far.
His biggest win to date came just last month when producing outstanding golf to when the Players Championship.
Surprisingly until then he has only one PGA Tour title to his credit – the 2012 Wells Fargo Championship – and it was perhaps the fact that he beat a certain Rory McIlroy in the play-off which sparked the talk of a lengthy rivalry to come in the years ahead.
Despite some acrimony between McIlroy and some of his American opponents back in that Walker Cup, he and Fowler have since become good friends which accounts for his presence back at a course where he can only have fond memories.
And the Rory factor has been crucial in assembling the most diverse and interesting Irish Open field since the tournament’s heyday in the seventies and eighties.
Outside of the PGA Championship the likes of Ernie Els and Sergio Garcia rarely grace a European Tour event with their presence these days, but both are teeing up at RCD.
The 45-year-old Els may be in the twilight of his career but his fourth major win came only three years ago and he showed in the first round of this year’s Masters that on his day he can still knock it round with the best of them.
The putting may not be what it once was, but the Big Easy’s laconic swing is still a thing of beauty.
Only Ulstermen and those with the hardest of hearts will have wanted to see Garcia fail in his pursuit of Rory McIlroy in the closing stages of the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool last summer.
His face was pure agony as he found the sand on the short 16th, which all but waved McIlroy, playing the hole behind with Fowler, through to take the Claret Jug.
Colin Montgomerie might dispute it, though few would agree, that the Spaniard is surely the most talented man never to have won a major.
Even though both Els and Darren Clarke have shown that when it comes to the Open, it’s never too late, Garcia may by now be thinking that his day to join the ranks of major winners have gone.
But he remains big box office and the point of rounding up all these big name players is to provide a golfing treat the likes of which the Northern Ireland public has not witnessed before.
Naturally the bulk of the attention and the largest galleries will be for McIlroy, but there will be recognisable figures dotted about all over the course.
And walking 18 holes with the likes of Fowler, Els or Garcia will be worth the admission prices alone.