Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 29 July 2014

Irish Open: Best pal backs McIlroy to get touch back

PORTRUSH, NORTHERN IRELAND - JUNE 26: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland with Harry Diamond (r) of Northern Ireland one of McIlroy's childhood friends who received an invitation to play this week during practice for the 2012 Irish Open held on the Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush Golf Club on June 26, 2012 in Portrush, Northern Ireland. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

Tipping Rory McIlroy as a good bet to win the Irish Open might be a bit of a no-brainer — but Harry Diamond is a man in the know.

The Belvoir Park amateur played a practice round with his best mate at Royal County Down on Sunday evening and says he is hitting the ball like a dream.

“He's got a new driver in the bag and he's really hitting it well,” he said.

“Even when I got a good drive away he was bombing it 30 yards past me down the fairway.

“He was playing some really, really good stuff again and I definitely think that he is going to be the player to beat this week.

“Actually he's a little nervous about it because it is at Royal Portrush and he badly wants to do well, but I think there's no question that he will.”

Diamond, who caddied for McIlroy at the 2005 Irish Open during a practice round, was his good pal’s guest at Wimbledon this time last year but while they obviously won't be there this week, they hope to be cheering on McIlroy's girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki in the final rounds.

Bangor night club manager Diamond emulated McIlroy by winning the West of Ireland Amateur Championship at Rosses Point in Sligo earlier this year — McIlroy won the title twice in his amateur days — and it was that success which earned Diamond his invitation to play this week.

During his practice round yesterday he was eyeing up the BMW on offer for a hole-in-one on the notorious par three 14th ‘Calamity'.

Amateurs can't win prize money — Shane Lowry missed out on half a million Euros when he won the Irish Open at Baltray three years ago — but the rules have since been relaxed to allow them to claim the prize if they are the first player to hit an ace during the tournament.

For the record Diamond took a four-iron with the pin 205 yards away yesterday — and came up just short of the putting surface, so he needs a little work on that shot.

But he knows what it takes to carve out a score around the Dunluce Links after getting to the final of last year's North of Ireland championship here, narrowly losing out to fellow Ulsterman Patrick McCrudden in the final.

“The course looks great and it's come on a lot in the last couple of week since we played the Irish Amateur here,” he said.

“The greens have improved a lot and the rough is a lot thicker after all the rain we've had so it's going to be a little trickier that I thought it was going to be.

“I'm going to be hitting a lot more woods and rescue clubs off the tee than I had originally planned because if you get it into this rough you are not going to be getting much more than a nine iron onto it.

“So I think you are going to have to be a little more defensive off the tee and then try to make your birdies and pars from there.”

There's no denying that with all the grandstands and the tented village in place Royal Portrush looks the part for a European Tour event.

But where the main stands are around the first and the 18th holes, it has completely altered the way the course looks to the players like Diamond who are used to playing it on a regular basis.

“I was saying to my caddie Gary when we saw the 18th that it looks so strange with the grandstand and everything in place around it that it will feel totally different playing into it.

“But I have to say I think the place looks just amazing with all the tents up around the place. It's going to be just a fantastic atmosphere.”

Ballymena's Dermot McElroy was also taking advantage of the relative calm of to get in a little practice.

Even at the tender age of 19 he's already a veteran of this event, having also been invited to play last year at Killarney.

“I think everybody here is excited about golf at the moment and it's great to be a part of it,” he said.

“Every time you see a leaderboard there seems to be a Northern Ireland name up there doing well and that's helps push you to go on improving.

“This feels very different to last year because it is at Royal Portrush and I'm so used to playing competitions here.”

Like Diamond, McElroy is a former runner-up at the North of Ireland championship at Royal Portrush — two years ago he lost out to Alan Dunbar who with McCrudden make up the four amateurs in the field.

McElroy's main ambition this week is to make the cut — but he would love to be paired with John Daly when the draw for the first two rounds is made today.

“It'd be great to be there on the tee watching him hit those huge drives and I wouldn't mind if he was 50 yards past me on every hole,” he said.

“I think knowing the slopes and all the run-off areas around the greens and being able to use them well is going to be very important all week.”

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