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Royal County Down hosts Irish Open in May

One of the strongest fields in Irish Open history including world number-one Rory McIlroy and new European Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke is set to compete at this year’s event as the tournament prepares to return to the world-famous links at Royal County Down after a 75-year absence.

The event is set to attract global attention when it is held on Northern Ireland’s top-ranked course from 28 to 31 May, with home favourite McIlroy leading a field of some of the world’s best players. McIlroy, whose charitable organisation The Rory Foundation will be the official tournament host this year, has played a pivotal role in attracting some of the biggest names in world golf to the County Down venue, with American ace Rickie Fowler, four-time Major winner Ernie Els and European Ryder Cup stars Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood among the players to have already confirmed their attendance.

Joining them in Northern Ireland will be defending champion Mikko Ilonen and home favourites Clarke and Graeme McDowell, and many of the game’s other top stars are also expected to play in one of the most popular tournaments on the European Tour calendar.

A European Tour record crowd of 112,000 flocked to see Jamie Donaldson win at Royal Portrush when the Irish Open was last held in Northern Ireland in 2012 and this year’s event is set to be just as popular, with tens of thousands of tickets already having been sold and organisers expecting more than 80,000 spectators.

Garcia won the Irish Open as a teenager in 1999 and will be making his first appearance in the tournament for 15 years, He said, “I cannot wait to return to a tournament which has such great memories for me. You could say this event is where it all began for me. I was just 19 when I won in Druids Glen in 1999, only two months after I turned professional. Not only am I returning to a very special event, but to a venue of which I have heard some incredible things. Royal County Down is a world-famous links and going by what Rory has been telling me, it could possibly be the best course I play this year.”

Tickets cost between £30 and £35 per day and children under the age of 16 will be admitted free when they are accompanied by an adult (up to four children are allowed with one paying adult).Tickets can be purchased at www.irishopen.ie