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Graeme McDowell in the groove for K Club Irish Open glory bid

By Liam Kelly

The Foreign Legion of the European Tour offers a clear and present danger to the Irish challenge for the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open which starts today on the Palmer Ryder Cup Course at the K Club.

A total of 22 home players tee off in the field of 156 starters. Realistically, Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, Shane Lowry and Pádraig Harrington represent the best chance of a first Irish victory since Lowry claimed the title as an amateur at Co Louth in 2009.

They need a good foundation over the first 36 holes, as otherwise, history suggests that this could be another year when the Irish Open title goes abroad.

Holder Soren Kjeldsen from Denmark became the fifth Scandinavian to win since Swede Patrick Sjoland broke the mould for golfers from that part of Europe in 2000 at Ballybunion.

Jamie Donaldson struck a blow for Wales in McDowell's home town, Portrush, four years ago.

G-Mac has arrived in Dublin fresh from an encouraging top-10 finish at The Players Championship in Sawgrass.

He said: "It's a great opportunity and it's always fun to play in front of the great crowds that we always get at the Irish Open."

The coming months include the scheduled birth of a second child, and a serious bid to qualify for the Ryder Cup team.

The Olympics is unlikely to cause any schedule changes as McIlroy and Lowry look certainties, and that suits McDowell.

"I have a baby boy coming August 29 this year, very excited. It will mean no change to the schedule. I'll be playing heads-on until the end of July," he said.

Rafa Cabrera-Bello's team won the Pro-Am yesterday with 30 under par. McIlroy was second on 26 under and Shane Lowry came third on 22 under.

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