Tiger Woods could be set to make his return to The K Club for next year’s Irish Open — 10 years after the USA’s crushing Ryder Cup defeat and Darren Clarke’s tears of joy.
The 14-time major winner is believed to have been in talks with tournament host Rory McIlroy and his Rory Foundation since before the Masters last April.
Woods could not make the inaugural Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Royal County Down in May but according to sources close to the event, the former world No 1 is being lined up to come back the Co Kildare venue next year.
The European Tour is expected to release details of the 2016 event on Monday with Dr Michael Smurfit’s Palmer Ryder Cup course expected to be awarded the tournament in a one-year deal that co-incides with the resort’s 25th anniversary and Dr Smurfit’s 80th birthday.
A huge increase in the prize fund is also expected as well as longer commitment to the event by the Rory Foundation.
It remains to be seen if the Woods deal is done and dusted but there is no doubt that he has a close relationship his fellow Nike stablemate McIlroy, who made promises of his own time to get players such as Rickie Fowler, Sergio Garcia and Ernie Els to commit to Royal County Down this year.
As Dr Smurfit told the Sunday Independent earlier this year: “In his younger days, he [Woods] made regular visits to us in the company of Mark O’Meara. Obviously I would be delighted to see him back there competing and I’d be relying on Rory to persuade him.”
As for the future of the Irish Open, the list of potential venues is growing.
When the Tour announced Royal County Down as the venue for this year, they also announced that the Lough Erne Resort in Co Fermanagh would play host in 2017.
But there now appears to be some doubt about that with the Tour unwilling to comment this week.
With top links course Portstewart, situated just a few miles from Portrush, confirming a few days ago that they are keen to host the Irish Open and with Mount Juliet, Adare Manor and Trump International Doonbeg also making major improvements to their infrastructure, the list of pretenders is a lone one.
Portmarnock Golf Club ticks all the boxes in terms of the golf course and location but the ban on women members remains a major barrier to the Irish Open returning there in the short term.
As for next week’s Irish Open announcement, he tournament’s Commercial Director, James Finnigan, says there are exciting times ahead and they will be announcing more than the 2016 venue.
“Ireland is spoilt for choice in term of its great venues, both parkland and links,” he said. “It would be wrong of us to go to one type of venue. We have to showcase all that Ireland has to offer.
“We are trying to develop a strategy with all our partners — the government and the private sector — that is fair to all.
“We have had some good discussion with the government to date and the indications are that the government recognises the importance of golf to Ireland and what the Irish Open delivers.
“There are many venues in Ireland interested in hosting an event and that’s why, for example, we are keen to re-introduce the European Seniors Tour to Ireland.”
The K Club is also believed to be keen to host a revived Ladies Irish Open.
The event was played in Ireland from 2008 to 2012, coinciding with the build up to the 2012 Solheim Cup.