Former European No 1 Ronan Rafferty will be smiling all the way to the bank this week - even if he finishes last at Valderrama.

The beefy Warrenpoint man, 43, will tee it up on tour for the first time in four years thanks to a one-off exemption for former winners in the 20th anniversary staging of the Volvo Masters.

With no pressure on him, Rafferty said: “I will probably will be the only player who walks around here with a grin on his face and not be completely annoyed about everything.

“It has at least got me back on the practice ground and I have probably hit more balls in the last month than I have hit in four years. It may not be good, it may not be pretty, but at least it is better than it was.

“When the invite came through, I thought it was a joke at first and it took me a few weeks to make up my mind because I haven’t played since 2003.”

Now a TV pundit for Setanta, Rafferty will pocket €15,800 if he finishes 55th at the track where he saw off Jose Maria Olazabal, Nick Faldo and Sandy Lyle to win the title and the Order of Merit in 1989.

In a career cut short by injury, Rafferty hasn’t played a tournament round since he lost his tour status four years ago and had to think long and hard before accepting the invite.

His last golf event was in a press outing at Greg Norman’s Doonbeg links in Clare, which he now represents a a golfing ambassador.

And he’s looking at the week as a chance to ease himself back into tournament golf before deciding if he wants to get ready for a possible shot at seniors golf when turns 50 in 2014.

Fully expecting to bring up the rear, he said: “I don't play and I don't practice. I play bit of social golf and I play a bit corporate but no tournament rounds at all.

“I did have to think about it because this is not the venue to turn up without having played for a while.

“But I decided that at least it was the kick in the butt I needed to get back out on the practice ground and actually do something. I have no expectations at all."

Rafferty’s teenage son Jonathan will carry his bag this week - 18 years after seeing the Cadiz venue from his pram.

The youngster was just six weeks old when he witnessed his father’s last European Tour win in the second edition of the Volvo Masters.

Now he will get a chance to see his dad take on the toughest course on the European Tour and Rafferty Snr knows it could get ugly.

Peering at the narrow fairways, lined with cork trees, he said: “I haven’t played here competitively since 1996 and is a pretty formidable golf course.

“It was formidable when I was playing and probably the most frustrating golf course that these guys will ever play. The cork trees are overhanging and you can hit good shots and get bad results.

“You have got to be very patient around here and take a few knocks because everyone else is going to get them. I think it is how you survive that.

“It is very easy here to go on a big bogey run and bogey half a dozen holes, not hit a bad shot and wonder what happened. You think, I am actually playing well and I am five or six over par. You have got to take it on the chin.”

In 1989, Rafferty had to finish ahead of Olazabal to win the Order of Merit and he believes Harrington is single-minded enough to retain the money title this year.

But he sees no comparison between the modern game and his 1989 win, when he earned him £66,660 compared to the €666,660 on offer for this week's champion.

The facilities and even the equipment has changed completely and Rafferty was shocked when he discovered the driver he used to win at Valderrama 18 years ago.

He said: “I won here with a little Cobra driver wooden driver and I’ve still got it. It’s like a 5-wood.

“You put it behind the ball and it covers the whole of the face. I mean I must have been good to be able to hit that! I hit it now and it’s unbelievable.”