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Comment: The world is watching and Royal Portrush is ready for the 148th Open Championship



Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods

This is it. After four years of planning, anticipation and projections, no more must we wait.

At 6.35am this morning, Darren Clarke, one of the architects of The Open Championship returning to Royal Portrush, will stand on the first tee flanked by Amateur champion James Sugrue and America's Charley Hoffman. He'll take a couple of practice swings, look to the crowd and inhale.

Then it'll happen.

"On the tee, from Northern Ireland..."

You daren't close your eyes for fear that, once they open, it will all have been a cruel nightmare. A flight of fantasy that, for a fleeting moment, our wee country had one of the biggest sporting events in the world on its shores.

But you're not dreaming. You're not imagining things. It's here, and it's starting now.

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For some, this has been a much longer wait than others. For those behind the scenes, this has been a seven - rather than four - year journey from the moment the Irish Open surpassed all expectations.

Back then, the wheels turned quickly when it came to getting The Open to follow in quick succession. The plans for the two new holes - the seventh and eighth - were quickly drawn up. All questions over the course's eligibility to host were batted away.

Portrush could do it, there was no doubt. The real question that needed answered was never if. It was when.

That answer came in October 2015 with the announcement that, come July 18, 2019, Royal Portrush would host The Open Championship for the first time in 68 years.

With that, the countdown began and the weight of expectation grew heavier and heavier upon Portrush's shoulders. But, rather than buckle underneath it, they have embraced it.

Instead of accumulating nerves, there was only ever increasing excitement. And now, after all that waiting, The Open at Royal Portrush is here.

All those dreams of watching Tiger Woods stride to the first tee, all those thoughts of Phil Mickelson playing into Calamity, all those hopes of one of our local boys doffing his cap and waving to the crowd as he strolls down 18 on his way to victory; after four long years they all culminate here and now.

Last night, a team of greenkeepers from across Northern Ireland worked tirelessly to ensure that the pristine links is at its best, cutting every blade of grass to perfection, rolling every lump out of every green and perching pins in precarious positions.

They do so because Portrush, for the next four days, will be the centre of the world's attention. Six hundred million households worldwide will tune into this week's action all transfixed on our corner of paradise tucked away on the north coast, so it has to be perfect.

For the next four days, we as a country are getting the chance to show what we can do.

Today, the most eagerly anticipated countdown in Northern Irish sporting history hits zero in the most emphatic way possible. Clarke will tee off, the grandstand around him will roar and the 148th Open Championship will have begun.

The world is watching, but don't panic. We've been ready.

They won't be disappointed.

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