Ireland's Magnificent Seven

By Brian Keogh

On the silver screen they were seven - and they fought like seven hundred.

But at this year's Open, Ireland will have seven gunslingers bidding to shoot down the toughest course on the Open rota.

Led by top gun Padraig Harrington and Ryder Cup heroes Darren Clarke and Paul McGinley, the Irish will be out in force this year with one of the biggest contigents ever.

Cool hand Graeme McDowell is the cocky young hand in the posse, but there are also three rookies in the gang this time round.

Amateur Rory 'The Kid' McIlroy, the 18 year old Holywood hotshot, leads the debutants alongside top guns Henrik Stenson and Miguel Angel Jimenez thanks to his European Amateur triumph last year.

But watch out for links specialist David Higgins, the man who twice beat Padraig Harrington in major amateur finals in 1994.

Born and bred on the wind-lashed links of Waterville, Higgins has been waiting his entire career for a chance to show off his skills in an Open Championship.

And what about Birr's Justin Kehoe - the Cinderella story of Irish golf so far this year.

With less than €10,000 banked since he turned pro just over three years ago, Kehoe has never even played a European Tour event, never mind a Major.

Irish Open winner Harrington is one of the bookies favourites to end Ireland's 60-year wait for a second major winner.

But with Clarke, McGinley and Harrington battling their way back to form in the nick of time, it could be Ireland's most memorable Open challenge in years.

Tiger Woods, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson are the 'bad guys' they all want to take down.

But on a punishing course like Carnoustie, it will be every man for himself in a battle for survival.

Padraig Harrington
Age 35
11th Open
Best finish T5th (2002 & 1997)
World ranking 10
2006 CUT, 2005 Did not play, 2004 CUT, 2003 T-22, 2002 T-5, 2001 T-37, 2000 T-20, 1999 29th, 1998 CUT, 1997 T-5, 1996 T-18

Fresh from his Irish PGA victory on Saturday, only Tiger Woods, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson are more fancied by the bookies to lift the Claret Jug.

Amazingly, Harrington has missed the cut in seven of his last 11 major starts.

But he's still represents Europe's best chance of victory for the oddsmakers and his two Dunhill Links Championship wins prove he can play Carnoustie well.

He said: "You love St Andrews, you like Lytham but you respect Carnoustie.”

Paul McGinley
Age 40
15th Open
Previous best T14th (1996)
World ranking 170

2006 CUT , 2005 T-41, 2004 T-57, 2003 T-28, 2002 CUT, 2001 T-54, 2000 T-20, 1999 CUT, 1998 CUT, 1997 T-66, 1996 T-14, 1995 DNP, 1994 CUT, 1993 CUT, 1992 CUT

Apart from last year's Ryder Cup win, pocket battler McGinley has had a nightmare 12 months.

But coach Bob Torrance swears that the Dubliner has turned the corner with his swing.

And McGinley will be up for a fight as usual as his natural grit comes to the fore.

He said: "I've been making too many mistakes. But my game is not that far away."

Darren Clarke
Age 38
17th Open
Best finish T 2nd 1997
World ranking 124

2006 CUT, 2005 T-15, 2004 T-11, 2003 T-59, 2002 T-37, 2001 T-3, 2000 T-7, 1999 T-30, 1998 CUT, 1997 T-2, 1996 T-11, 1995 T-31, 1994 T-38, 1993 T-39, 1992 CUT, 1991 T-64

Back in the groove after discovering that he has been using the wrong shafts for three years.

He's also on the rise in the world rankings - he's now 124th - thanks to his top 20 finish at Loch Lomond.

Determined to show his sons he can still play when they come to watch the weekend action, he said: "I am a proud man and a proud golfer, so of course I’m not happy with my current standing in the game.

"I just want to have a solid week — not least because the boys are planning to come up for the weekend to watch me.

“It would be nice to put on a bit of a show for them and hopefully put a smile on their faces. It is certainly an added motivation.”

Graeme McDowell
Age 27
Playing in 4th Open
Best finish T11th (2005)
World ranking 118

2006 T-61, 2005 T-11, 2004 CUT

Hit a 66 to grab the first round lead last year but slumped to 61st by Sunday and confessed he felt like a broken man.

After losing his US Tour card last term, he has shown signs of a return to form recently as he battles to get back into the world's top 100.

Tied 18th at the K Club and 11th in the Scottish Open at Loch Lomond on Sunday, he said: "I'm really looking forward to Carnoustie. I feel like I'm taking some great form in with me and it would be nice to give myself a chance next Sunday."

David Higgins
Age 34
1st Open
World ranking 641

The Waterville wonderboy achieved a major ambition when he qualified for his first Open after 12 years in the professional game.

Now he wants to acquit himself well on the biggest stage of all as he battles to regain his tour card.

Straight off the tee, a big cheque could put Deadly Dave back on the big stage again.

He said: "It's something you dream of and I've grown up on links golf. I've holed the winning putt in the Open thousands of times as a kid. Now I get the chance to play for real. It's a dream come true."

Justin Kehoe
Age 27
1st Open
World ranking - not ranked

The Birr man is playing in his first Open after coming through regional and local qualifying.

He beamed: "It is unbelievable, it really is. I mean, it is unbelievable. I arrived in yesterday with my parents and the first person I saw on 18 was Tiger Woods just after finishing his round."

Guaranteed €3,100, which will be the biggest pay day of his career, even if he finishes last in the 156-man field.

If he make the cut and finishes 70th he will get €14,000 - more than he has earned since he turned professional in 2003.

Rory McIlroy
Age 18
1st Open
World amateur ranking 18

The former world amateur No 1 from Holywood qualified for the Open as last year's European Amateur champion.

Drawn with Ryder Cup stars Henrik Stenson and Miguel Angel Jimenez, he has the talent to become a huge star and led Ireland to Euroepan team glory just two weeks ago.

The Walker Cup will be his swansong in the amateur ranks as he turns pro the day after the event and joins pal Darren Clarke in Chubby Chandler's ISM.

Clarke said: "I think he is going to be sensational. He is as big a talent as I have seen for a very long time. He has his head screwed on. He knows exactly what he is doing and his record speaks for itself.

"There are not many Irish amateurs that have the record that he has."