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More big names to play in Irish Open as Martin Kaymer and Luke Donald join Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, Ernie Els, Jose Maria Olazabal, Lee Westwood and Rickie Fowler in star-studded line-up

By Peter Hutcheon

The pulling power of world number one Rory McIlroy combined with the lure of playing Royal County Down has resulted in three more of the games top names signing up for next month's Dubai Duty Free Irish Open.

US Open champion Martin Kaymer, former world number one Luke Donald and rising American star Patrick Reed have all been confirmed by the European Tour for the tournament on May 28-31.

And tournament director Antonia Beggs also confirmed that prize money had been increased to 2.5million euros and said that more big name players will be added.

"Entry hasn't closed," she said at Royal County Down yesterday.

"Rory has been twisting a few arms to get them to come and I think the combination of his persuasion and the prospect of playing a course as iconic as Royal County Down has come together perfectly.

"I was lucky enough to be at the Masters last week and there was a real buzz around this year's Irish Open with the players - you can tell that by the field that has already been assembled."

While Ulster's three major winners McIlroy, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell, will still be the star attractions for home fans, there will be big name players all over the fairways.

Kaymer, Donald and Reed join Sergio Garcia - playing a rare European Tour event -, Ernie Els, Jose Maria Olazabal, Lee Westwood and Rickie Fowler who were already confirmed.

Dustin Johnson, who locked horns with Rory McIlroy on these links in the 2007 Walker Cup, remains a good bet to be added and Ian Poulter might be persuaded too.

"It's great to see Martin, Luke and Patrick adding their names to the Irish Open," said McIlroy.

"To have another three truly world class players at the tournament can only give the Irish Open fans a better experience at Royal County Down."

The involvement of McIlroy's Foundation had a direct effect on the 25 per cent increase in prize money.

"It's out first year sponsoring and we want to invest in the tournament and work with the European Tour in order to attract the best players in the world."

Over 20 per cent of the tickets are going outside Northern Ireland, a big increase on 2012 at Portrush, which is music to the ears of the other main tournament sponsor, Tourism Northern Ireland.

And Beggs said the Tour wanted to get the message out to local people to get their tickets early.

"Very few tickets remain for the Sunday and the rest are going quickly," she said.

"We don't want local people to feel they can just turn up and pay at the gate because we are expecting it to sell out as it did at Portrush three years ago.

"We have taken advice and have decided to limit crowds to 20,000 on each competitive day, so people should get their tickets in advance.

"We don't want people to miss out."

The presence of double major winner Kaymer brings the total of major wins in the field to 18 which is a throwback to the glory days of the event in the 80s when it was routinely graced by the likes of the great Seve Ballesteros.

"There is definitely a good feeling about this year's Irish Open and I think Rory has done a great job to get such a good field," Kaymer said.

"He is very passionate about the tournament and also the golf course."

Because of the limited access around the course, the European Tour is also installing grandstands with 5,000 seats, again a big increase on a regular European Tour event.

"It is a difficult course for people to get around and we want people to have the best experience possible, so we will be installing much more grandstand seating than usual," Antonia Beggs said.

There was no evidence of much preparation at the club yesterday, bar the odd lick of paint here and there.

The course itself, though, is in magnificent condition and will present it's own unique challenge to the players next month.

Belfast Telegraph


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