Westwood Northbound! Lee Westwood set to return to Ireland as Ilonen defends title
FORMER World Number One and 23-time European Tour winner, Lee Westwood, is set to make his long-awaited return to Ireland by confirming he will join a world class field in the 2015 Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation at Royal County Down from May 28-31.
Ireland has been a happy hunting ground for the 41 year old Englishman down the years, but this will be the first time in his 22-season European Tour career that Westwood has teed up in Northern Ireland, home of his Ryder Cup colleague and tournament host, Rory McIlroy.
Westwood made a huge impact closer to Dublin either side of the new millennium, winning the 1999 Smurfit European Open at The K Club and successfully defending the title in 2000. He also played a pivotal role in helping Europe win The 2006 Ryder Cup at the same venue, four years after GB & I captured the Seve Trophy at Druid’s Glen.
The Florida-based player, currently Number 30 in the Official World Golf Ranking, has not played in the Irish Open since 2009 but he is looking forward to making his return over a links course ranked among the best in the world, and as part of a superb field including McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, Darren Clarke, US Ryder Cup player Rickie Fowler and defending champion, Mikko Ilonen.
Ilonen, who will be competing in the Irish Open for the tenth time, captured the title last year in front of huge crowds at Fota Island Resort in Co. Cork – a victory which carried him to a career-best 18th place in The Race to Dubai.
Westwood, currently in Malaysia defending the 23rd and most recent European Tour title in his portfolio of victories, said: “I’m really looking forward to playing. I’ve heard a lot about the golf course – County Down has that legendary status.
“I haven’t played in the Irish Open for a long time. It’s somewhere I’ve been successful and had a lot of support from the local fans. I’ve always seemed to get on very well with the Irish.
“I played the Amateur Championship in Northern Ireland – at Royal Portrush in 1993 – but this will be the first time I’ve played as a professional there.
“I can’t wait to go back and play the Irish Open. It’s a great tournament and I’m really excited that it’s back on my schedule for the first time since 2009.”
Ilonen, who also won the Volvo World Match Play title in 2014, endorsed Westwood’s sense of excitement about returning to Northern Ireland following his tenth place finish at Royal Portrush in 2012.
“Whenever I am in Ireland, the thing which always strikes me is how good the crowds are,” said the Finn. “I played with Rory at Portrush three years ago and it was massive. The fans know and appreciate their golf and it’s an amazing place to play.”
As an amateur, Ilonen won the West of Ireland Championship at Rosses Point, Co. Sligo, in 1999 and he recalled: “Even before my Irish Open victory, I was recognised as the guy who won the ‘West’ and I couldn’t believe people could remember that from so long ago!
“I actually played Royal County Down in the Amateur Championship that same year, 12 months before I won it, and I can remember almost all of the holes and how good the greens were. It will be an amazing week with the Rory Foundation involved and so many good names in the field.”
More than 80,000 spectators are expected in total and tens of thousands of tickets have already been sold for the event which is once again supported by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board.
Anyone wishing to witness the action first hand can purchase tickets on www.irishopen.ie. Tickets cost between £30 and £35 per day and families will be delighted to hear that kids under the age of 16 will be admitted FREE as long as they are accompanied by an adult (up to four children are allowed with one paying adult).
Corporate hospitality tickets are also available for the event at a cost of £300 + VAT per person. Already sold out on Friday May 29, these exclusive tickets include course admission with reserved grandstand seat on the 18th green, an official programme, reserved VIP parking (for one or two people), and generous hospitality in the Grand Ballroom of the neighbouring Slieve Donard Hotel – including breakfast followed by a Champagne Reception, a buffet lunch served with fine wines, afternoon tea and a complimentary bar.
For more information on the Irish Open 2015 or to purchase tickets, visit www.irishopen.ie. For information on accommodation offers and golf in Northern Ireland, visit www.discovernorthernireland.com/irish-open-2015.