Paul McGinley: The Irish Open is bigger than anybody - even Rory McIlroy
Irish Open host Paul McGinley says the tournament has bounced back from the 'body blow' of Rory McIlroy's snub.
The Holywood golfer announced earlier this year that he would miss the tournament in favour of next week's Scottish Open in order to arrive at Royal Portrush in perfect condition to win the Open Championship.
The decision sparked a mixed reaction across Ireland but McGinley always defended McIlroy's right to organise his own schedule and prioritise major championships, particularly what is potentially the biggest tournament of his life in Portrush.
Now the Dubliner says his tournament, which boasts names such as Tommy Fleetwood, Graeme McDowell and Jon Rahm, will be a success even without its star attraction.
"Well, yes. Rory's obviously a huge body blow," McGinley said at a Lahinch press conference. "Of course there are challenges, and that was a huge challenge, particularly so early after the announcement that we were coming here, that he wasn't playing.
"A guy like that who, outside of Tiger, is probably the most charismatic in the world, he's from Ireland, and he decides not to play this year, of course it's a body blow.
"But I think we've recovered from that strongly and the fact we've sell-out crowds is a validation of that, that the Irish Open will always be bigger than any one player. Rory will be the first person to agree with that. We've had great champions here in this Open over the years - Nick Faldo, Seve, Langer, Olazabal, all the greats, they've all won it. Rory's won it.
"And I think in 20 years' time, when Rory's kind of winding down a little bit, there will be another young Rory McIlroy coming along, and that's just the evolution.
"The game is always bigger than any one player, and I think we've the validation of the sell-out crowds that we're anticipating is an indication that we haven't been too much affected by Rory not playing."
As many as 12 of the world's top 50 golfers are in Lahinch for this week's Irish Open.
After announcing that he would miss the tournament, McIlroy explained the special circumstances that contributed to his decision.
"If there is ever a year when I feel I can miss this Irish Open, it's this year," he told the BBC. "If I was to play the Irish Open, The Open Championship would be my third event in a row. For me, that's not the best way to prepare for what could be the biggest event of my life.
"I love the Irish Open. I've supported it in my whole career. The people of Ireland are still going to see me playing golf because I'm going to play The Open Championship and I'm sure a lot of people will travel from down south.
"I never thought I would play a major in Northern Ireland. It would be the biggest achievement of my career if I was able to win it."
Belfast Telegraph Digital