A history of Irish success on the European Tour

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Shane Lowry holds the Gary Player Cup after winning the World Golf Championships - Bridgestone Invitational during the final round at Firestone Country Club in 2015 (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

Since its formation in 1972, there have been 22 players from both Ireland and Northern Ireland to win on the European Tour. How many can you name before looking?

Graeme McDowell was the most recent champion, earning his way back into the winner’s circle for the first time since 2014 with his victory at the 2019 Saudi International. His win took his tally of European Tour titles to 11, putting him fourth on the all-time list of most wins by an Irish golfer.

Here’s a closer look at the established list of champions, and who has the most titles.

Padraig Harrington

The 2020 Ryder Cup Captain turned professional in 1995 and has amassed 15 European Tour victories – including three Major Championships – during his impressive 25-year career.

Harrington was quick to make an impact on the European Tour with a win in just his tenth start at the 1996 Peugeot Spanish Open, where he played two rounds on the final day and beat nearest challenger Gordon Brand Jr by four shots.

The Dubliner made the first of six Ryder Cup appearances in 1999, and claimed his next two titles at the turn of the century with victories at the 2000 BBVA Open Turespaña Masters Comunidad de Madrid and 2000 Brazil Sao Paulo 500 Years Open, taking his number of wins to three.

Over the next few years that total significantly increased, adding the 2001 Volvo Masters Andalucia, 2002 Dunhill Links Championship, 2003 Deutsche Bank – SAP Open TPC of Europe, 2003 BMW Asian Open, 2004 Omega Hong Kong Open, 2004 Linde German Masters, 2006 Alfred Dunhill Links and 2007 Irish Open to his ever-growing list of accolades.

The most significant spell of Harrington’s career to date began in 2007, when he claimed his first Open Championship with a play-off win over Sergio Garcia at Carnoustie and moved to his highest ranking of World Number Three. He then went on to successfully defend at Royal Birkdale the following year to join a prestigious list of multiple Open champions, before adding a third Major victory at the US PGA Championship at Oakland Hills Country Club.

His most recent victory came at the 2016 Portugal Masters.

Rory McIlroy

Current World Number One and four-time Major champion Rory McIlroy has over 27 professional victories, including 14 on the European Tour.

The Northern Irishman, who played his first Tour event at the age of 16, was the leading amateur during Harrington’s 2007 Open Championship win and turned professional that September. His first victory came on his 37th European Tour start, beating Justin Rose by one shot to the 2009 Dubai Desert Classic title.  He went on to play in the first of five Ryder Cups in 2010 – the same year he won his first title on the PGA Tour.

The meteoric rise to the top of the game continued for McIlroy, whose next two European Tour wins were his eight stroke Major triumphs at the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club and 2012 US PGA Championship at Kiawah Island Golf Resort. In May 2012 he would also earn his first stint as World Number One, and followed up with a win at the European Tour’s season ending DP World Tour Championship to end the year as the champion of the Race to Dubai.

Another phenomenal year for McIlroy came in 2014, where he claimed two further Majors – the Open Championship and a second US PGA Championship – in addition to the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and BMW PGA Championship. Since then, he has added the 2015 WGC – Cadillac Match Play, 2015 DP World Tour Championship, 2016 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, and the 2019 WGC HSBC Champions.

He returned to World Number One on February 9, 2020 and has now become the third player behind Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus to spend more than 100 weeks at the top of the Official World Golf Ranking.

Darren Clarke

Darren Clarke holds a list of accolades that include 14 European Tour victories – including the 2011 Open Championship – a high of eighth in the Official World Golf Ranking, and 2016 Ryder Cup Captain.

Clarke played his first full season on the European Tour in 1991 but didn’t have his breakthrough win until the 1993 Alfred Dunhill Open when he edged out Sir Nick Faldo and Vijay Singh by two strokes at Royal Zoute GC.

It was an impressive win, and he would add the 1996 Linde German Masters, 1998 Benson and Hedges International Open, 1998 Volvo Masters and 1999 Compass Group English Open to that list before the turn of the century.

Over his career, Clarke won two World Golf Championships. He notably defeated Tiger Woods 4&3 to win the 2000 WGC-Anderson Consulting Match Play Championship, and later the 2003 WGC-NEC Invitational by four strokes over Jonathan Kaye. Other wins included the 2000 The Compass Group English Open, 2001 Smurfit European Open, 2002 Compass English Open, 2008 BMW Asian Open, 2008 KLM Open and 2011 Iberdrola Open.

His emotional victory at the 2011 Open Championship is one that will always be remembered, winning the Claret Jug on his 20th attempt at the age of 42 and dedicating it to his children and late wife Heather. It was the last time he won on the European Tour.

Graeme McDowell

The most recent Irish champion, Graeme McDowell has 16 professional wins worldwide (including 11 on the European Tour), has played in four Ryder Cups, and reached a high of Number Four in the Official World Golf Ranking.

McDowell turned professional in 2002 and made an instant impression with a one stroke victory over Trevor Immelman to win the Volvo Scandinavian Masters in just his fourth event on the European Tour. He would win his next trophy at the 2004 Telecom Italia Open, defeating Thomas Levet in a play-off, before waiting four years for his next two titles: a play-off win against Jeev Milkha Sing at the 2008 Ballantine’s Championship, and a two stroke victory at the 2008 Barclay’s Scottish Open.

His most memorable victory came at the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, when a final round 74 left McDowell one shot clear of Frenchman Gregory Havret as he outlasted a roster of the top names in the game to end a 40-year drought for European winners at the U.S. Open.

He won two further European Tour titles that year – the Celtic Manor Wales Open and the Andalucia Masters – before adding beating Thongchai Jaidee to win 2013 Volvo World Match Play and claiming back-to-back Open de France titles in 2013 and 2014.

McDowell most recently ended a five-year wait for his 11th European Tour title for his latest win at the 2019 Saudi International, which moved him back inside the World’s top 50 in the Official Golf World Ranking.

Under 10 European Tour Wins

Des Smyth (8): 2001 Madeira Islands Open, 1993 Madrid Open, 1988 BNP Jersey Open, 1983 Sanyo Open, 1981 Coral Classic, 1980 Newcastle Brown “900” Open, 1980 Cold Shield Greater Manchester Open, 1979 Sun Alliance Match Play Championship

Ronan Rafferty (7): 1993 Hohe Brucke Austrian Open, 1992 Portuguese Open, 1990 PLM Open, 1990 Ebel European Masters Swiss Open, 1989 Lancia Italian Open, 1989 Scandinavian Enterprise Open, 1989 Volvo Masters

Shane Lowry (5): 2009 3 Irish Open, 2012 Portugal Masters, 2015 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, 2019 Abu Dhabi HSBC Champions, 2019 Open Championship

Michael Hoey (5): 2013 M2M Russian Open, 2012 Trophée Hassan II, 2011 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, 2011 Madeira Islands Open, 2009 Estoril Open de Portugal

David Feherty (5): 1992 Iberia Madrid Open, 1991 Credit Lyonnais Cannes Open, 1989 BMW International Open, 1986 Italian Open, 1986 Bell’s Scottish Open

Paul McGinley (4): 2005 Volvo Masters, 2001 Celtic Manor Resort Wales Open, 1997 Oki Pro-Am, 1996 Hohe Brucke Open

Christy O’Connor Jnr (4): 1992 Dunhill British Masters, 1989 Jersey European Airways Open, 1975 Martini International with Ian Stanley, 1975 Carroll’s Irish Open

Eamonn Darcy (4): 1990 Emirates Airlines Desert Classic, 1987 Volvo Belgian Open, 1983 Benson and Hedges Spanish Open, 1977 Greater Manchester Open

Eddie Polland (4): 1980 Benson and Hedges Spanish Open, 1976 Spanish Open, 1975 Sun Alliance Match Play Championship, 1973 Penfold Bournemouth Tournament

Philip Walton (3): 1995 Open Catalonia, 1995 Murphy’s English Open, 1990 Peugeot Open de France

John O’Leary (2): 1982 Carroll’s Irish Open, 1976 Greater Manchester Open

Irish Players with 1 European Tour win

Paul Dunne (2017 British Masters supported by Sky Sports)
Simon Thornton (2013 Najeti Hotels et Golfs Open presented by Neuflize OBC),
Peter Lawrie (2008 Spanish Open)
Damien McGrane (2008 Volvo China Open)
Liam Higgins (1977 Kerrygold International)
Paddy McGuirk (1973 Carrolls International)
Jimmy Kinsella (1972 Madrid Open)

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