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Clarke picks Rory for The Open golf tournament

Words by Rob Chilton

Golfer Darren Clarke singles out his countryman Rory McIlory to win The Open at the beautiful Royal Portrush course in his native Northern Ireland this week

Usually athletes are quick to play down the hype surrounding an event they stand a chance of winning, but Rory McIlroy could not contain his boyish excitement at the thought of becoming The Open champion at his magnificent home course Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland this week.

Admitting that it “could be the biggest event of my life,” McIlroy smiled, “If I could lift the Claret Jug at Portrush, that would be the biggest achievement of my career. I’m trying not to think about it because I’ll get over excited.”

McIlroy is excited about playing in Northern Ireland

It’s just the second time The Open has been played in Northern Ireland and McIlroy – who last won a major in 2014 – calls it a “great achievement” for the country. “It’s a tournament I desperately want to win and I’ll be nostalgic thinking about all the rounds my dad and I have played there.”

The Open has only been played once outside England or Scotland, at Portrush in 1951 when Max Faulkner was triumphant. The beautiful course on the north Antrim coast is one of the most spectacular in the world and has views of the island of Islay, while Dunluce Castle overlooks the 18 holes.

Veteran Northern Irish golfer Darren Clarke, who won The Open in 2011, has been a member at Royal Portrush for 36 years and has a home in the town. “I’m very proud that we have it here in Northern Ireland,” he said. “It goes without saying it’s a huge thing to have it here. It’s going to be an amazing tournament. The atmosphere is going to be sensational.”

Darren Clarke wins The Open in 2011

“The Open is the biggest and best and oldest tournament in the history of our sport, and to have the spotlight on Royal Portrush is brilliant. The Open is one of those events that transcends our sport. It’s bigger than golf itself.”

With holes that have names White Rocks and Calamity, plus a notorious bunker named Big Nellie, the links course requires a straight drive. “Royal Portrush rewards people who hit the ball on the fairway,” explained Clarke. “If you miss the fairways it’s a nightmare. You will not get away with anything. If you start hitting it sideways forget about it. It’s going to reward someone who has the ability to play it smart.”

Rory McIlroy last won a major five years ago

Clarke picked out Adam Scott as one to watch when the action begins on Thursday, as well as his countryman McIlroy. “Obviously I’d take Rory, wouldn’t I?” Clarke smiled. “Who else would I say?”

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