By Brian Keogh
Ireland has been waiting nine years for a home winner of the AIB Irish Seniors Open but Wicklow’s Eamonn Darcy can’t see the famine ending on a muscular PGA National Ireland course measuring almost 7,000 yards.
With Des Smyth plying his trade on the Champions Tour in the United States and Darcy struggling with a rotator cuff injury, Irish hopes are pinned on Cork’s Denis O’Sullivan who can push his career earnings over the €1 million mark if he pockets the winner’s cheque for €67,500 at the stunning Palmerstown House lay-out.
The €450,000 event has attracted last season’s top 30 money winners and while Ireland will have nine runners on the former stud farm near Naas in Co Kildare, defending champion Sam Torrance of Scotland is the short-priced favourite ahead of Carl Mason, Jose Rivero and Gordon Brand to add a second Irish Seniors crown to his brace of Irish Open victories.
"Sam will love it here," said Darcy, who has received anti-inflammatory jabs in his right shoulder and strapped on a portable electrotherapy device to ease the pain. "This is a long track and I like it. But it's an American style course built in Ireland and even the walks between tees are enormous.
"To be honest, there are not too many Irish guys out there with a chance. I would like to be a bit stronger coming in and hopefully I can hole a few putts but I am trying to project the injury a bit and it is a long course."
No Irishman has won the title since Joe McDermott triumphed at Woodbrook in 1998 and with Christy O'Connor Jnr’s share of third place in 2002 the next best performance by a home player, hopes of seeing one of the over 50’s brigade emulate Padraig Harrington’s Irish Open win two weeks ago look decidedly slim.
Darcy has played just one event this year and Ireland’s best hope looks to be 59-year-old Corkman O’Sullivan, who has taken the radical step of changing his grip and retrieving a trusty old putter from the garage in an attempt to add to his haul of six European Seniors Tour victories.
With career earnings of exactly €951,011 since he turned professional in 1997, O’Sullivan has yet to finish better than tied 23rd in his three starts so far this year and has never been better than 11th in the Irish Seniors Open.
But he believes that a long overdue change of grip and the magic touch of an old putter can bring him his first victory since the 2005 DMG Barbados Open.
"I've had a weak grip for years, ever since I badly damage two fingers on my right hand during the 70s," O’Sullivan explained. "Noel Ratcliffe told me that I should change it and my grip is a lot stronger now. I can't believe how much better it feels.
"I drove the ball so well yesterday and I am also hitting my irons a lot higher. I should have done it years ago. I also dragged out an old putter last week, one that I used when I won most of my events on the Seniors Tour.
"I had probably last used it three years ago but it felt really good. Obviously I would love to win this event as it is my home title, but we’ll have to wait and see."
This year's championship will be the last edition with AIB as title sponsors and with his 18-year-old son Daniel on the bag for the first time, Torrance hopes to add to last season's triumph and his two Irish Opens wins.
"I’ve tried to go through the do’s and don’ts with him," Torrance said, "but he’s 18 so you have got to tell him a few times. He should be fine though, as he has played the dunhill links with me three or four times and knows exactly what goes on. He’s a very good player himself, so hopefully he will learn something and I might even learn something myself."
AIB Irish Seniors Open, PGA National Ireland (Palmerstown House)
First round tee-times (* denotes amateur)
08:00 J Benda (USA), DW Morris* (Ire)
08:10 P O'Hagan (Ire), R Carrasco (USA), L MacNamara* (Ire)
08:20 B Malley (USA), D Creamer (Eng), A Tapie (USA)
08:30 I Mosey (Eng), B Heuchan (Can), G Levenson (SA)
08:40 J Mashego (SA), B Larratt (Eng), D Merriman (Aus)
08:50 B Lincoln (SA), T Gale (Aus), P Oakley (USA)
09:00 GJ Brand (ENG), S Owen (NZ), L Higgins (Ire)
09:15 M Bembridge (Eng), M Gray (Sco), T Charnley (ENG)
09:25 K Spurgeon (Eng), P Leonard (N Ire), M Ferguson (Aus)
09:35 A Sowa (Arg), R Drummond (Sco), J Rhodes (Eng)
09:45 D Johnson (USA), T Allen (Eng), M Piñero (Sp)
09:55 D Durnian (Eng), T Horton (Eng), B Shearer (Aus)
10:05 A Garrido (Sp), J Heggarty (N Ire), DJ Russell (Eng)
10:15 J Quiros (Sp), J Chillas (Sco), J Hawkes (SA)
10:30 S Torrance (Sco), J Rivero (Sp), D O'Sullivan (Ire)
10:40 A Fernandez (Chi), D Good (Aus), T Rastall (Eng)
10:50 E Darcy (Ire), C Rocca (It), S Ginn (Aus)
11:00 H Carbonetti (Arg), G Ralph (Eng), G Encina (Chi)
11:10 C Mason (Eng), B Longmuir (Sco), G Cali (It)
11:20 J Bland (RSA), M Clayton (Aus), N Job (Eng)
11:35 P Teravainen (USA), B Cameron (Eng), B Smit (SA)
11:45 L Carbonetti (Arg), N Ratcliffe (Aus), M Miller (Sco)
11:55 T Johnstone (ZIM), G Watine (Fr), M Poxon (Eng)
12:05 V Garcia (Sp), S Martin (Sco), J Bruner (USA)
12:15 P Dugeny (Fr), E Polland (N Ire), D Cambridge (Jam)
12:25 A Morrow* (Ire), J Lapsley (NZ), E Rodriguez (Sp).
PGA National Ireland
Card of the course
Hole Par Yards
1 4 401
2 4 386
3 3 184
4 4 406
5 4 442
6 5 539
7 4 398
8 3 188
9 5 563
Out 36 3507
10 3 174
11 4 404
12 3 154
13 4 437
14 5 563
15 4 372
16 5 543
17 4 396
18 4 406
In 36 3449
Total 72 6956