Rory McIlroy boosts struggling Irish Open by agreeing to play in Killarney
The Celtic Tiger has returned for Irish golf in the shape of Rory McIlroy.
After his electrifying US Open victory at Congressional on Sunday, world golf's newest superstar now can save the ailing Irish Open.
McIlroy's record-shattering win has been feted all around the world, with tennis ace Rafael Nadal, one of McIlroy's sporting idols, among the first to text his congratulations.
Yet it's at home in Ireland where the impact of McIlroy's victory will have its most telling effect in drawing huge crowds to Killarney for the Irish Open on the August Bank Holiday weekend.
Left in the lurch when communications giant '3' decided not to take up the option of a third year sponsoring the event, the European Tour and Failte Ireland decided to place their faith in the Irish public and press on without a title sponsor this year.
It's a gamble that requires crowds at least as big as the 40,000-plus that packed the Killeen Course last summer to return ... or the Irish Open will fall into extinction.
Yet as soon as McIlroy received the US Open trophy on Sunday night, he pledged he'll be bringing it to Killarney.
“Definitely, I will be playing the Irish Open later this summer,” the 22-year-old confirmed.
Fellow Ulsterman Graeme McDowell, the 2010 US Open winner, and Dublin's three-time Major champion Padraig Harrington helped boost the crowds last year.
McIlroy also played, but the 22-year-old is now going to be the biggest draw wherever he goes.
Meanwhile, although McIlroy may be considerably richer following his win, one Irish punter had their own reason to celebrate after pocketing a tidy €36,000.
The canny Dublin-based golf fan bet €2,000 at odds of 18/1 a week ago that McIlroy would emerge victorious at Congressional.
And their faith paid off handsomely.
Bookmakers Paddy Power paid out a total of €1.7m following the historic win.
One far-sighted member of McIlroy's local golf club in Holywood, Co Down, netted £25,000 (after some years ago betting £50 at odds of 500/1 that the then teenage prodigy would win a major before reaching his 25th birthday.
McIlroy's father Gerry, incidentally, will have an extra reason to cheer on his son at the Open next month.
He and four friends banded together several years ago to bet £500 on the talented young golfer lifting the famed Claret Jug before the age of 25.
The bookies have of course installed McIlroy as heavy favourite to win the Open at Royal St Georges.
He was certainly a short-odds bet after the first round at St Andrews last year, when he hit a terrific 63.
But the youngster was blown off course in the second round, with a disastrous 80 putting him out of contention for his first major.