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Rickie Fowler is excited about trip to Northern Ireland, and going head-to-head with pal Rory McIlroy

He has just scooped the Players Championship title but Rickie Fowler is already looking forward to his trip to Northern Ireland later this month.

Fowler secured a memorable win in Sawgrass when he won a three-way play-off to silence the critics who said he was "overrated".

Now the American hotshot is relishing the chance to go head to head with Rory McIlroy in Royal County Down, a tournament he feels will be "special".

“I am looking forward so much to getting back to Royal County Down as every time I get to talk to Rory, he’s talking about how strong the field is going to be for the Irish Open,” said Fowler.

“But to be heading to the tournament later this month now as the Players Champion is going to be extra special.

“I left Royal County Down eight years ago as a young golfer unsure of where my career was headed. I was 18 and unsure what future lay ahead of me.

“So to be returning to Northern Ireland is not only special given what we managed to achieve back in ’07 but to now have won the Players, and to have had the support heading into the play-off from guys like Billy Horschel, who was one of my Royal County Down team-mates, means the world to me."

McIlroy's powers of persuasion have resulted in US Open champion Martin Kaymer, former world number one Luke Donald and American Ryder Cup star Patrick Reed in confirming their participation in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open.

McIlroy's foundation is hosting the event at Royal County Down from May 28-31 and the world number one has been a major influence in attracting a top-class field, who will compete for a prize fund of €2.5m an increase of 25pc from last year.

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