Murphy's Irish Open
Murphy's Irish Open
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Ballybunion attracts Europe's best

Darren Clark hits out of the rought at the Irish Open at Ballybunion. Allsport.

The European Tour breaks new ground this week when the Irish Open is played for the first time on the links of the Old Course at Ballybunion.

While the name may be the same as the Old Course at St. Andrews, where the British Open is to be played in three weeks, Ballybunion may turn out to be far tougher -- especially if the wind blows.

Tom Watson invariably includes this links course in southwest Ireland on his pre-Open itinerary. He fell in love with it years ago.

"After playing Ballybunion for the first time, a man would think the game of golf originated here,'' he said. "There is wild look to the place,'' he said.

This week's field includes defending champion Sergio Garcia, past winners Ian Woosnam and Bernhard Langer, and Darren Clarke.

Most, though not all, of Europe's best will be here, the exceptions being Colin Montgomerie, Lee Westwood, and Paul Lawrie.

Seve Ballesteros called the course "a piece of art, a unique stretch of land.

"It made me feel the same way as when I first saw St. Andrews. The magic is the same,'' said the Spaniard, who won the second of his three British Opens at St. Andrews in 1984.

The winner could be one of Ballesteros's two compatriots, Jose Maria Olazabal or Miguel Angel Jimenez.

Irishman Padraig Harrington had never played the course before this week. He is coming off a fifth-place finish in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach 10 days ago.

"Pebble Beach, then Ballybunion,'' he said. "You don't always have events at such great venues.''

"It asks every question of you,'' Harrington added. "After 18 holes, you know you've been out there. It's very difficult mentally.''

Padraig Harrington hoping for home success

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