European perspective: Royal Portrush, Northern Ireland ready to shine for British Open

(David Cannon/Getty Images)

European perspective: Royal Portrush, Northern Ireland ready to shine for British Open

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European perspective: Royal Portrush, Northern Ireland ready to shine for British Open

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PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland – Two days in Northern Ireland have me looking forward to a British Open like no other. The 148th running of the game’s oldest tournament could be one of the most memorable.

To say the people of Northern Ireland are pumped about staging the Open is an understatement. They can’t wait for major-championship golf to return to the course they think is the Emerald Isle’s best. The R&A has released additional tickets to satisfy demand for the first British Open in Northern Ireland in 68 years since Max Faulkner’s 1951 victory. An extra 3,750 tickets per championship day have been released after the initial 40,000 allotment sold out in record time.

I was in Portrush for the 2012 Irish Open when 130,000 spectators in all turned out despite miserable weather. I was at the 2007 Walker Cup at Royal County Down when thousands of fans showed up to watch the amateur team matches. Rory McIlroy was the common denominator on both occasions.

“I never thought I would get an opportunity to play in a major championship at home, so I am very excited,” McIlroy said. “It’s a tournament I have earmarked for a long time. It would be a dream come true to win an Open here. I’m not going to lie: I’ve thought about it and how special it would be in my career. It is going to be incredible – I can’t wait for it to come around.”

His compatriots feel the same. There will be a special atmosphere this year, especially if Rory walks away with the old claret jug.

“I remember playing there in the Irish Open the year after Darren (Clarke) had won the Open Championship and being paired with Darren the first round, and yes, it was something I still remember, so I can only imagine what the Open is going to be – it is going to be even bigger,” defending champion Francesco Molinari said.

The big difference this year is the course is far stronger than the one Jamie Donaldson won on seven years ago.

No. 5 of the Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush (David Cannon/ Getty Images)

Two new holes, Nos. 7 and 8, replace the old 17th and 18th to make the 7,344-yard, par-71 layout much stronger. Architect Martin Ebert has routed them into the dunes of the nearby Valley course. No. 7 is a 592-yard par 5 that runs parallel to high dune land separating the links from the sea, while the 434-yard eighth runs back parallel to the seventh.

If you hadn’t played Royal Portrush before, you wouldn’t know the holes were new. They fit seamlessly into the dunes as if they had been there since Harry Colt first conceived the Dunluce Links in 1929.

“They look like they’ve been here forever,” McIlroy said.

The 17th is the only iffy hole, especially since it follows Royal Portrush’s famed par-3, Calamity Corner. It’s called Purgatory, but there’s a good chance many won’t suffer since they have a chance of reaching the green 405 yards away. The tee shot is blind, but at around 280 yards the fairway pitches down steeply to the green. Expect most to take it on. It could determine the Champion Golfer of the Year, as an eagle here on Sunday could be the deciding factor.

Calamity Corner, now No. 16 on the Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush (David Cannon/Getty Images)

As for Calamity Corner, the old 14th now playing as the 16th, it’s aptly named. Any tee shot hit right can end up down in the valley course some 60 feet below the green. You’ll see a lot of faded irons on this 236-yard beast.

So, we have the course. Fingers crossed the weather is better than for the Irish Open. More importantly, hopefully we get a good winner.

A local kid called McIlroy once shot a course-record 61 around Royal Portrush. If McIlroy the man can reproduce that form in July, then celebrations after the 148th Open might last until the 149th. Gwk

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