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Ulster's Michael Hoey aims to give crowd plenty to celebrate

By Robert Jones

Michael Hoey is targeting at least a top three finish as he returns to the Northern Ireland Open Challenge following the disappointment of missing the cut at last year's inaugural event.

The five-time European Tour winner, a former graduate of the European Challenge Tour, is the official Tournament Ambassador for the event taking place on the pristine grounds of Galgorm Castle.

The 35-year-old feels his game is in good shape as he takes on some of Europe's most promising young players as well as many experienced European Tour professionals.

"It's great to be back," said Hoey. "It was a great event last year and I was disappointed not to make the cut but hopefully I can put that right this year. I feel like my game is good at the moment, I played the course last Friday and on Monday and it's in good shape.

"I think there was a lot of attention on me last year and I put myself under a bit too much pressure. I think I'll just try and relax a little more this year.

"It would be great to finish maybe top three. This event doesn't affect my own rank on the European Tour so I may as well just relax and play well.

"Expectation in golf is never a great thing, to think you're going to do great. It's that type of game, you just have to relax a bit more and not expect too much, so that's what I'll and try do this time."

Former Ryder Cup star Oliver Wilson came from six shots back in the final round last year to earn an unlikely play-off with Dutchman Daan Huizing and, while Wilson was eventually defeated, that runner-up finish spurred him on to a strong finish to the season.

The nine-time European Tour runner-up said: "It's nice to come back to a tournament that feels like a big event. It's a good golf course in good condition so when you get the opportunity to play in a tournament like this it's always nice.

"I couldn't have had worse form coming into this same week last year so I know the game's in there, and I'm in a much stronger position this year than I was back then."

Wilson is joined by another former Ryder Cup player, Phillip Price of Wales, and a host of former European Tour winners, including Welshman Rhys Davies, Maarten Lafaber of the Netherlands and Swede Johan Edfors.

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