The 2022 Horizon Irish Open marks the 67th edition of the tournament and takes place at Mount Juliet for the second successive year after the hugely successful hosting in front of limited-capacity crowds in 2021. A full house is expected with tickets sold out for the final two rounds as the countdown to the 150th Open Championship really begins.
The Kilkenny venue is no stranger to welcoming elite level professionals having previously hosted the Irish Open for three consecutive years in 1993, 1994 and 1995, won by Nick Faldo of England, Bernhard Langer of Germany and Sam Torrance of Scotland respectively.
Mount Juliet Estate also twice hosted the WGC-American Express Championship, in 2002 and 2004. Tiger Woods claimed the title in 2002 with a one-stroke victory over Retief Goosen while Ernie Els finished one shot clear of Thomas Bjørn to win in 2004.
Lucas Herbert of Australia added his name alongside an illustrious roll of honour at this golf course and he defends his title this week, having triumphed in wire-to-wire fashion last year, sealing a three-stroke victory for a second DP World Tour title. He has since gone on to win on the PGA Tour.
Shane Lowry is among the headline acts this week as he searches for his second Irish Open title and first as a professional after winning in thrilling fashion at a wet and windy Baltray in 2009.
“I say it every year, it’s always great to come back to The Irish Open. The tournament, it’s kind of close to me, and I owe a lot to it for where I am in the game with the start that I had with The Irish Open in 2009, and, yeah, gave me the kick start to my career that I really needed, definitely gave me one up on the rest of the guys around my level at the time,” said Lowry who tees off alongside Seamus Power and Tyrrell Hatton.
In the absence of Rory McIlroy, the Clara native will certainly be the star attraction for fans and media alike but he is managing his expectations to the best of his ability and focusing on enjoying his week at home.
“I treat it like any other tournament. I was actually talking about it the other night, you come back to Ireland like once a year to play this tournament. And especially this year, when things have been going well and I’ve been playing quite good, there’s no point shying away, one of the highest ranked players in the field, one of the top Irish players, one of the players that people really want to do well. There’s expectation there.
“Coming off the back of the ninth green, lots of kids there waiting for me, last thing I’m going to do is walk past them just because I want to protect myself or play well. I kind of have to do a bit of both where obviously I want to play well when it comes to tomorrow (Thursday) at 8 o’clock, I’m standing on the 10th tee, I’m going to be in game mode.
“All around that, I’m just going to be myself and be as good as I can with everyone and just give people what they want. Because I think that’s just nice. When I was a kid coming to The Irish Open, that’s what I wanted. So it’s nice to be able to do that. And, no, not doing anything different. I’m staying here on site, my family are here. I’m going to up and down and around for dinner and stuff. Nothing really different,” added Lowry who will also play in the JP McManus Pro-Am at Adare Manor.
Waterford’s Seamus Power will be two thirds of the marquee group this week as he returns to home soil for only the fourth time after COVID and a priority on maintaining his full PGA Tour playing rights prevented him from playing in the Irish Open since 2019.
However, Power arrives as one of the favourites this week having enjoyed a meteoric rise to the top of the sport where stresses and strains of keeping a PGA Tour card have been replaced with major championship debuts and heightened expectations.
The Tooraneena native was ranked 308th the last time he teed it up on home soil in Lahinch and having fallen further down the world rankings in that time has risen to 36th in the world and he feels teeing it up competitively in Ireland for the first time since his breakthrough PGA Tour win last year will be a new experience.
“I don’t quite know how I will feel as of yet. Last couple of days have been busy, but my manager over this week has been great. He takes some of the buffering out of it.
“But it’s tough. It’s a completely different experience for me. I’ve played in the States for a long time. Haven’t played that many Irish Opens, and obviously none really as someone near a featured group.
“So it’s going to be a different experience. I feel like I have a good plan set up for it. At the end of the day, I’m going to start a golf tournament tomorrow morning (Thursday). No matter where it is, I still have to be prepared, do proper warmups, having everything taken care of preparation-wise and see where my game stands,” said Power.
Pádraig Harrington rolled back the years last weekend as he ended a six-year winless drought to claim his maiden senior major at the US Senior Open and held off a late charge from Steve Stricker to win his first USGA title.
The three-time major champion (in his younger days!) is understandably battling fatigue following a tense finish after which he enjoyed the celebrations, but he is hoping he can dust himself down and give the crowds something to cheer about this week.
“Look, the challenge this week is all about me and how I can and I mean this with greatest respect for the Irish, how I can get myself up after last week. As I said I don’t want to have a flat start to the week. I want to make sure, we see with anybody who wins the following week, if they start well they can keep the excitement and buzz going and the focus will stay there.
“I need a certain level of tension to keep myself in the game this week. Hopefully that happens. It will be tough if it’s flat but if it is I’ll still enjoy the week. The fans are out and it’s a great week, great venue, Mount Juliet, so I’m going to enjoy myself no matter what, wave to the crowds.
“My display of golf today wouldn’t give you any great confidence about how the rest of the four days, but 24 hours is a long time in golf so I’m hoping that I’ll be well rested by tomorrow,” explained the 50-year-old.
Away from the big three of Lowry, Harrington and Power, there are plenty of Irish hopefuls for the spectators to line the fairways in support of including Kinsale’s John Murphy who is making his Irish Open debut.
Niall Kearney, Paul Dunne, Jonathan Caldwell, Cormac Sharvin, David Higgins, Mark Power and Irish Amateur Open champion Colm Campbell Jnr round off the home contingent in Kilkenny.
Niall Kearney looks to be hitting form at the right time ahead of another jaunt on home soil. The Dubliner matched his best finish of the season with a T-15 finish in Germany last week.
The Royal Dublin star was unlucky to lose his DP World Tour card last year despite ranking 8th in stroke average from his limited starts but he is feeling confident ahead of his latest opportunity.
“It’s great to be here and nice to be playing well,” said Kearney.
“I played decent last week but it’s a totally different test this week – different greens, different grass, the weather was perfect, but the wind is forecast to die down through the week and my confidence is quite high.
“I’m playing well this year when I’ve had opportunities so I’ve just got to try and take this one – this is a big one.”
David Higgins arrives very much under the radar ahead of his first Irish Open appearance since 2017.
The Cork native who won three Challenge Tour titles during his career is facing a quick turnaround this week following his win at the Slieve Russell PGA Pro-Am on Tuesday but he is relishing a chance to rub shoulders with the tour pros on a happy hunting ground for him.
“I have been planning this run for a while and have been practicing quite a lot,” said the 49-year-old. “I think I have won up in Mount Juliet three times so the energy levels are good, it was a good plan coming in. I will play the pro-am this afternoon, nine holes and be ready for action tomorrow morning.
“I just have to treat it like a normal event and not get distracted and everything should be fine. My game is good so there’s no reason I can’t have a good week. Goal number one is to play four rounds and we will take it from there after that.”
Warrenpoint’s Campbell is looking to put his disappointment of being left out of the Irish squad for the European Championships behind him and try and play his way onto Niall MacSweeney’s Home Internationals side.
Campbell who beat Malone’s Matthew McClean in a playoff in The Island to lift his second Irish Amateur crown sees no reason why he can’t play all four rounds.
“The big goal for me is just to enjoy it and play well. Realistically, making the cut would be a big achievement given the field that’s here, anything else is a bonus. But if I play well, I know I can do that.
“I’ve still a few tournaments to come up, and the goal at the start of the year was to play Home Internationals, so if I could play well here then it would be a nice push towards that as well.”
Local boy Mark Power is back for another crack at the Irish Open after missing the cut here last year. The Kilkenny native has been finding his feet since returning home from Wake Forest and enjoyed a deep run into the Amateur Championship before being beaten by Alex Maguire in the last-16.
Power will be joined in the field by fellow Deac Alex Fitzpatrick, now better known as the brother of US Open champion Matthew. Alex is making his professional debut this week.
Jonathan Caldwell arrived here last year and was in one of the featured groups just weeks after his maiden DP World Tour win, but his form has significantly dipped while he has battled a shoulder injury.
Cormac Sharvin has endured a nightmarish season missing his last eight cuts. His best finish in the last 12 months was a T-33 finish in Mount Juliet in last year’s event so perhaps that can be an omen for a much-needed weekend’s golf.
Selected Irish tee times.
08:00 Seamus Power, Shane Lowry, Tyrrell Hatton HOLE 10
08:20 Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Jonathan Caldwell, Troy Merritt HOLE 10
08:30 Sebastian Soderberg, Mark Power, Jazz Janewattanond HOLE 10
08:40 Niall Kearney, Marcus Armitage, Andy Sullivan HOLE 10
09:10 David Higgins, Andrea Pavan, Jaochim B. Hansen HOLE 10
09:30 Higa Kazuki, John Murphy, Maverick Antcliff HOLE 10
13:00 Padraig Harrington, Thomas Pieters, Lucas Herbert HOLE 1
14:20 Colm Campbell Jnr, Jack Senior, Darius Van Driel HOLE 10
14:30 Ricardo Gouveia, Nicolai Von Dellinghausen, Cormac Sharvin HOLE 10
Tee Times HERE