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Irish Open has bounced back from ‘body blow’ of McIlroy absence – McGinley

McIlroy was tournament host from 2015-18.

Paul McGinley believes the Irish Open has survived the loss of Rory McIlroy (Brian Lawless/PA)
Paul McGinley believes the Irish Open has survived the loss of Rory McIlroy (Brian Lawless/PA)

Tournament host Paul McGinley believes the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open has recovered well from the “body blow” of Rory McIlroy’s absence.

McIlroy acted as tournament host from 2015-18 and won the title at the K Club in 2016, but will compete in next week’s Scottish Open rather than at Lahinch.

“Rory (not playing) was a huge body blow, particularly so early after the announcement we were coming here,” McGinley told a pre-tournament press conference.

“Outside of Tiger Woods he is probably the most charismatic golfer in the world but I think we have recovered from that strongly, as shown by being close to selling out this weekend, and the Irish Open will always be bigger than one player. Rory would be the first to agree with that.”

McGinley feels those players who have made the journey to County Clare will enjoy ideal preparation for the Open Championship at Royal Portrush in a fortnight’s time.

“We got in touch with the R&A and although we are not copying exactly everything they do, we have info on green speeds, rough height and fairway width and the players will feel really well prepared to win a major championship,” the former Ryder Cup captain added.

“I did it with the Wales Open before the Ryder Cup in 2014 and told the players it would be the perfect set up to prepare for Gleneagles.”

World number 11 and 2017 champion Jon Rahm is the top ranked player in the field which contains 12 of the world’s top 50 as well home favourites Paul Dunne, Graeme McDowell and Padraig Harrington.

“I think it’s a hard sell two weeks before a major because the American guys don’t want to be on the road for a long time,” McGinley added.

“You just put the info in front of the players, communicate that it’s going to be great preparation for the Open, communicate that they’ll be playing in front of big crowds, that there’s a major airport nearby, that they’ll be looked after.

“You can’t push them. The more you keep driving them the more resistance there is going to be.”

Russell Knox will defend the title he won at Ballyliffin last year in remarkable circumstances, the Scot holing from 40 feet for birdie on the 72nd hole to join Ryan Fox at the top of the leaderboard before the New Zealander missed from eight feet for a birdie of his own.

And when the players returned to the 18th for a sudden-death play-off the situation was remarkably repeated, Knox holing from an almost identical place for birdie before Fox saw his attempt catch the edge of the hole and spin out.

“It was a crazy ending that I was fortunate to be on the good end of,” Knox said. “To hole a putt on the last to make a play-off is a moment I will never forget and to somehow fluke it again and win the tournament is a dream come true.

“I will never forget the whole atmosphere. It was definitely a pinch yourself moment.”

PA

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