McGinley relishing Baltray return

Paul McGinley says the Irish Open’s return to Baltray is perfectly timed with Messrs Harrington and McIlroy in the field.

Paul McGinley believes Padraig Harrington and Rory McIlroy are the two biggest draws in European golf at the moment – and sees the return of The 3 Irish Open to Baltray this week as perfect timing.
The championship switches there after two years at Adare Manor near Limerick and mobile phone company 3, the new title sponsors, have increased prize money by almost £500,000 to nearly £2.7million.
“It’s less than an hour’s drive from Dublin and less than an hour from Belfast, so I’m sure the crowds are going to be very strong,” said McGinley, who was a member of the County Louth club as a junior and still rates it his favourite links in Ireland.
In these troubled financial times McGinley calls the increased prize money “an unbelievable step – a surprise step to be honest”.
“I hope (the sponsors) are satisfied at the end of the week. I know the players will be.”
Australian Brett Rumford was the winner the last time the event was staged at Baltray in 2004, beating Harrington and France’s Raphael Jacquelin by four with a 14-under-par total.
Two years ago Harrington became the first home winner of the title since John O’Leary in 1982.
That was emotional, but he quickly topped it, of course, by becoming Open champion at Carnoustie that July and last season by retaining the Claret Jug and adding the US PGA championship.
This year might yet be even better, but it has not started out that way and he is down from third in the world last August to eighth now.
Since he was fifth in Abu Dhabi in January Harrington has played 10 events in the United States and has not had a top 10 finish.
McIlroy will be keen to show that last week’s 77 at the Players Championship – his worst round of the year and one that meant he missed the halfway cut by seven – was a temporary blip.
Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke are also part of the strong Irish contingent, while Lee Westwood, Colin Montgomerie, Jose Maria Olazabal and John Daly are among the other main attractions.
Daly was joint second in the Italian Open on Sunday, far exceeding his own expectations in only his second tournament back following a four-month lay-off.
Fans will be keen to see not only what is next in the colourful collection of trousers the American has brought with him for this five-week European venture, but also whether he can be a contender against a far stronger field than in Turin.
Montgomerie could not even make the cut there and, having crashed out early in Spain two weeks ago after a second-round 81 he is now down at 176th.
First things first, though. Europe’s Ryder Cup captain was presenting his case for an increase in wild card selections at a players’ committee meeting tonight.
Paul Azinger had four – two more than predecessor Tom Lehman – when America regained the trophy last September, but Montgomerie might accept a change from two to three.
The argument against going further is that the Tour needs its star players to appear as much as possible on their circuit rather than stay in America hoping for a captain’s pick, as Ian Poulter and Paul Casey did last year.