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Woods & Duval to play in Irish pro-am

A charity pro-am in rural Ireland is threatening to undermine the credibility of one of the most prestigious events on the European Tour. World No 1 Tiger Woods and many other leading players have committed themselves to the J.P.McManus Invitational Pro-Am at Limerick Golf Club on July 10 and 11.

No appearance money is being paid to the 44 star performers even though the three amateurs accompanying each professional will have to stump up Ir£40,000 between them to take part in the 36-hole event. However, owing to golf's crowded schedule at that time of year, it seems inevitable that the field for the £1.1m Standard Life Loch Lomond tournament from July 12-15 will be weakened by the timing of the monster in Munster.

The entry list for Loch Lomond - seen by the golfing public and BBC Television as the curtain-raiser for the Open at St Andrews the following week - includes the title holder Colin Montgomerie, Ernie Els and New Zealand's Michael Campbell.

A spokesman for Limerick Golf Club said, though, that all three would be playing in the pro- am, raising the possibility that they would either forego a practice round at Loch Lomond - unheard of among modern tournament professionals - or withdraw.

A European Tour official confirmed the trio, currently second, third and fourth on the order of merit, were all entered for Loch Lomond, but added ominously:

"I'm afraid we have no control over players' schedules." Standard Life, in their third year of sponsorship, have been told that McManus, a multi- millionaire businessman, has chartered a plane to fly players at 3pm on July 11 from Shannon to Glasgow after their pro-am rounds.

However, a company spokeswoman, Fiona McMorian, said: "It's unlikely they will get to Loch Lomond before 5pm at the absolute earliest and by then the course will probably be closed for last-minute preparations. It's fair to say that we're concerned this pro-am will have an adverse effect on our tournament."

All of which is a far cry from the optimism expressed a few weeks ago by the championship committee chairman, Graham Simmers, after announcing that the American left-hander Phil Mickelson would play at Loch Lomond.

"The stature of the tournament continues to grow and we look forward to further announcements about exciting new additions to our outstanding field," he said.

Alas, it now seems that Mickelson, a friend of Loch Lomond's American owner Lyle Anderson, will be part of one of the season's weaker European fields. In addition to Woods, the American contingent in Limerick also includes David Duval, the world No 2, Mark O'Meara and Tom Lehman, winner of the Loch Lomond title in 1997. 'Major' winners Mark Brooks and Lee Janzen and the Australians Robert Allenby and Stuart Appleby are also committed along with Ireland's two top players - Darren Clarke and Padraig Harrington.

Ticket sales for the pro-am are limited to 8,000 spectators each day and the Limerick spokesman said the profits would go to unspecified "local and Irish charities".

A simple calculation suggests that the pro-am's revenue could top Ir£2.5m, though much of it will no doubt be spent on flying players in from around the world - Woods, for instance, will travel overnight on July 9 from Chicago where he is due to defend his Western Open title. The key to why Woods, Duval and O'Meara are so keen to inconvenience themselves may lie in their association with the billionaire British financier Joe Lewis at the exclusive Isleworth community in Florida where they have homes.

Lewis, in turn, has close links with McManus and also provided the three Americans and the late Payne Stewart with accommodation at the luxurious Old Course Hotel in St Andrews and helicopter transport to the course during last year's Open at Carnoustie. Perhaps something similar is on offer again this summer.

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