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Irish Open: McIlroy has been pivotal in helping championship regain its lost prestige

 

The winner of the 62nd staging of the Irish Open, sponsored by Dubai Duty Free, should doff his cap to Rory McIlroy and say 'thanks a million'.

€1m - that's the prize the 2017 champion will receive on Sunday when the biggest, best and brightest Irish Open concludes at Portstewart Golf Club.

This Irish Open carries a £5.4m prize fund as part of the European Tour's elite Rolex Series, which is the brainchild of Tour CEO Keith Pelley.

And with McIlroy's status as a golfing superstar, the Irish Open was a no-brainer for inclusion in the new series.

Equally important, in just their third year as sponsors, Dubai Duty Free have achieved their aim - and McIlroy's - of moving the tournament closer to the heart of the summer.

Links golf two weeks away from the Open, world ranking and Race to Dubai points, and the kind of prize money that gets the attention of even the wealthiest golfers on the planet. It is a potent combination.

This elevated level for the Irish Open marks a decade of stunning growth in the achievements and reputation of Irish golf, which began on May 22, 2007 when Padraig Harrington won at Adare Manor Resort, becoming the first home winner since John O'Leary in 1982.

However, the Irish Open lost much of its lustre from 2007.

Then came a turning point in 2012 when the Tour, gently persuaded by Northern Ireland's Major winners, and the governments on both parts of the island, broke new ground by taking it to Royal Portrush.

It was a great success. The Northern Ireland golf fans, always great supporters of the Irish Open, flocked through the gates in record numbers.

And McIlroy gave his money and time, and used friendships and reputation, to bring over star names such as Ernie Els, Rickie Fowler and Sergio Garcia to Royal County Down in 2015.

Last year at the K Club, McIlroy got a tangible reward by winning the Irish Open, achieving one of his most cherished goals.

The glory was enough for him. McIlroy handed over his €666,000 winning cheque to the Rory Foundation, ensuring that the overall contribution from the Irish Open would be around €1million for charitable causes.

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