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Irish Open 2015: Rickie Fowler gets spurred on by warmest of Ulster welcomes

By Peter Hutcheon

A wet and windy Royal County Down is a bit of a culture shock for Rickie Fowler - who jetted in to Northern Ireland from a holiday in the Bahamas.

It was anything but Caribbean-style weather in Newcastle yesterday, although Fowler escaped the worst of it with a morning tee-time in the pro-am event.

He was out on the course with Tony McCoy and Patrick Kielty yesterday in a crowd-pleasing group, although not one which threatened the leaderboard.

Fowler didn't hesitate to accept the invitation back to Royal County Down once it had been extended by tournament host Rory McIlroy.

The pair's friendship stemmed from their rivalry at the 2007 Walker Cup when they came up against one another at the course.

On that occasion the Americans had the better of it as they took the trophy back across the Atlantic but, as Fowler pointed out yesterday, McIlroy hasn't done too badly himself since then.

"I was excited to get the invite from Rory," he said.

"Royal County Down is one of my favourites and has been since that Walker Cup in 2007. I have some great memories from that."

Fowler, McIlroy and Masters champion Jordan Spieth have the talent to dominate the world game over the next decade at least. And Fowler's win at the Players Championship last month - just his second on the PGA Tour - could be the launching pad for him.

"My close friend Jimmy Walker was in a similar situation as he was getting into contention but not winning," Fowler said.

"But once he got one, he started rattling them off, and I wouldn't mind being in that position now."

Unlike McIlroy, Fowler did not turn professional until two years after that Walker Cup win and he went on to represent America again two years later.

He finished second to McIlroy at last year's Open at Royal Liverpool and was in the top five of all four Majors last season - but without quite managing that breakthrough win.

Now that he has been crowned the Players champion - the event the players themselves dub the 'fifth Major' - he feels he has answered some significant questions about his abilities both as a player and a winner.

"I had to wait a long time for the second win and it couldn't really have come at a better time," he said. "That's one of the best tournaments that we play and its one of the best fields.

"I'm excited going forward and looking forward to being in contention and keeping it fun."

That Bahamas jaunt was Fowler's reward to himself for the win and this will be the first event he has played since.

He was hitting the ball magnificently around Royal County Down in the practice rounds this week and is clearly enjoying himself out on the course.

And he says the warm welcome he has received from the Northern Ireland public is spurring him on.

"You can see what it means to people just by the amount of fans that were out there today," he said.

"I don't think they care what kind of weather there is - they just want to come out and see great golf.

"Rory has been able to help out by assembling a great field here this year.

"It's fun to be over here and see people's enthusiasm for the game."

Ryder Cup star Ian Poulter has pulled out of this week's AT&T Byron Nelson tournament in Texas due to injury.

The 39-year-old, who last week recorded his first PGA Tour top-five finish in five months, was scheduled to play in Irving but will now not tee it up again until next month's US Open at Chambers Bay.

"I will not be competing this week in Texas, I picked up a slight strain in the gym on Monday, so taking precautions and not chancing it," the Englishman wrote on Twitter.

"I was looking forward to two weeks in a row, playing good golf, so disappointing not to keep that going. Next event will be @usopengolf."

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