Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler will be star attractions at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open Hosted by the Rory Foundation.

Lowdown:
Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler headline an impressive field at Royal County Down for the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open Hosted by the Rory Foundation. Mikko Ilonen is the defending champion.

With an increased prize fund of €2,500,000 and given the fact the event is being contested on one of the world’s best golf courses, this tournament has attracted a very strong line-up of players.

Home favourite and World Number 1 Rory McIlroy will be the star attraction but he will be ably supported by the likes of Sergio Garcia, Rickie Fowler and Martin Kaymer.

Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler have done battle over the course before. They faced each other in the Walker Cup at Royal County Down in 2007. In that event the USA came out on top. Rory will be keen to reverse the result this time out.

Major champions like Graeme McDowell, Ernie Els, Darren Clarke and Padraig Harrington will draw the attention of the galleries, so too will last week’s winner at Wentworth An Byeong-hun.

Rory McIlroy is desperate to bounce back from a disappointing performance at Wentworth.

“I’m so excited for this tournament,” said the 26-year-old. “Obviously the Irish Open is a tournament that’s close to my heart. Now that I’m involved with my foundation hosting the event, and with all the players coming to play Royal County Down, it’s going to be a great week and I just hope I can put on a good performance for all the fans.”

The Irish Open has a long and distinguished history. It was first contested in 1927 and has produced some famous champions over the years. Bobby Locke, Bernard Gallacher, Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer and Colin Montgomerie have all been champions.

Last year Mikko Ilonen of Finland fired a closing round of 70 to win at Fota Island Resort in County Cork by a single shot from Italy’s Edoardo Molinari. It was the Finnish player’s 300th start on the European Tour.

Royal County Down is one of the great links courses and it was ranked Number 2 in Golf Monthly’s most recent list of the top-100 courses in the UK and Ireland. In a simply spectacular setting, it will provide a superb stage for some of the world’s best golfers.

The weather forecast for the week looks unsettled and rain is more than likely. Currently, Sunday looks like being very wet indeed.

Venue: Royal County Down GC, Newcastle, Co Down, Northern Ireland
Date: May 28-31
Course stats: par 71, 7,186 yards
Purse: €2,500,000 Winner: €416,660
Defending Champion: Mikko Ilonen (-13)

TV Coverage:
Thursday 28 – Sky Sports 4 from 8am
Friday 29 – Sky Sports 4 from 12pm
Saturday 30 – Sky Sports 4 from 1.30pm
Sunday 31 – Sky Sports 4 from 12.30pm

Player Watch: Rory, Rickie and Sergio will be strong favourites. Who else might challenge for the win at Royal County Down?

Tommy Fleetwood – The young Englishman played well at Wentworth last week and, despite a disappointing last round, he ended the week tied 6th. He’s currently 13th on the Race to Dubai and 50th on the Official World Golf Ranking.

Alex Noren – The talented Swede is enjoying an excellent return to competitive action following injury. He was tied eighth last week.

David Howell – He may have missed the cut at Wentworth but he had been on great form prior to that, he was tied fourth, second and tied second in the three previous events. He knows how to play the links – he won the Dunhill Links Championship of 2013.

Key hole: 18th. At 550 yards, the closing par-5 will be reachable in two with a favourable wind. But the hole is fraught with danger. There are no fewer than 24 bunkers to contend with and the fairway is lined with heather. Even if the player manages to avoid all the hazards, the test is by no means over – the green features one of the most severe slopes on the course.