With the Horizon Irish Open set to get underway in a few day’s time at the K Club, we’re counting down our top-10 from years gone by…..
5. Portrush hosts and the Open Championship seed is sown – 2012
Welshman Jamie Donaldson’s may be the name on the trophy, but the staging of the Irish Open at Royal Portrush in 2012 was about so much more than leaderboards and titles as the tournament went north of the border for the first time since 1953, thanks in no small measure to the Major success of local heroes Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke, and Graeme McDowell.
130,000 fans descended on Portrush to ensure a first ever European Tour sell-out crowd, and any lingering fears of cross-border and mid-summer controversy were quickly dispelled as all of the island’s players received rapturous applause and no shortage of enthusiastic support.
Harrington would open with a pair of 67s and go into the weekend two behind surprise leader Gregory Bourdy, and as the weather turned (particularly) nasty on Saturday, a third-round 72 didn’t see him lose that much ground and he’d start in the penultimate group on Sunday.
McIlroy was one of just seven players who’d break par in each of the four rounds, and a closing five-under 67 gave feint hope that the number-one attraction could post a clubhouse target that wouldn’t be caught, but it was wishful thinking.
A bogey at the first in round four saw Harrington drop four back, and though he’d rally to close with a 70 that left him in a tie for seventh overall, he never really got back into contention on the final day. He’d finish one clear of McIlroy who was tied for 10th.
Ultimately, both fell short of the fast-finishing Donaldson who’d birdie five of his closing seven holes, and in a week of firsts for the Welshman, followed up his first ever tournament hole-in-one on Thursday with his first ever European Tour win on Sunday.
But this tournament was about so much more and much bigger stakes were at play. A capacity crowd on all four days, a memorable championship, and a golf course and setting that had proven it had what it takes to go on to bigger and better things, the hosting of this tournament no doubt paved the way for what was Shane Lowry’s greatest stage when he triumphed at the 148th Open Championship at Royal Portrush in 2019.