Unlikely quartet leading the charge have chance to follow in footsteps of Donaldson
After Jamie Donaldson won the Irish Open at Royal Portrush in 2012, his maiden win on Tour, it elevated him to new levels.
The pressure of making cuts every week was lifted, tournament applications were accepted without hesitation and invites started to flood in from organisers across the world.
At his prime, Donaldson reached 23rd in the world. He was an integral part of the European team that won the 2014 Ryder Cup and added individual successes in Abu Dhabi and the Czech Republic to go with his Irish victory.
And all because he won at Portrush six years ago.
This weekend at Ballyliffin, we head into round three with four virtually unknown players taking the top four spots — Ryan Fox, Erik van Rooyen and Matthieu Pavon lead, with Joakim Lagergren a shot further back. None of them are in the world’s top 100, the same as Donaldson.
Of the quartet, only Joakim Lagergren has a European Tour win to his name, and that was earlier this year in Sicily.
A more unlikely group of players to be leading the Irish Open you have possibly never met.
And yet here they are.
While leading lights like Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Graeme McDowell scraped over the cut line, and big names like Padraig Harrington, Rafa Cabrera Bello and Matt Fitzpatrick didn’t make the weekend, here are four relative unknowns leading the way.
It just proves that links golf can be a wonderful equaliser for a field. Just ask Ben Curtis and Todd Hamilton, two of the unlikeliest Major winners in history
It’s why we love it so much — it’s not like the PGA Tour which rewards those who can bomb it down the fairway as far as possible.
You have to craft your way around the course; plot your way past the contours, the pot bunkers, the rough. You have to go beyond just the conventional way of playing golf.
That’s where some of the lesser known players sparkle. Not all of the top players can think their way out of those situations when they need a miracle play.
What this would do for one of the four players on top of the tree would be immeasurable.
As a Rolex Series event, the prize money is plentiful — just over $1million — and the world ranking points are substantial. Opportunities to play across the world open themselves up and your future on the Tour is no longer in question.
Don’t forget the three Open places on offer too. Van Rooyen’s already punched his ticket to Carnoustie in two weeks, but the other three haven’t — earning one is as valuable as a tournament win itself.
If you can hold your nerve.
For one week, those who don’t usually find themselves at the top of a leaderboard are thrust into the spotlight.
With so much on the line, the question is who will handle the pressure. Who can push away the negative thoughts and control their swing. Who, like Jamie Donaldson, will grab that life-altering opportunity.
This tournament changed one life six years ago.
This week, four rapidly beating hearts are hoping it will do the same all over again.