WORLD number one Rory McIlroy today paid tribute to the "incredible" home fans who make the Irish Open so special - and admitted that he would love to win "a few" Irish Opens during the course of his already glittering career.
The 23-year-old Northern Irishman, who has earned the accolade of European Tour Golfer of the Year to set alongside the Association of Golf Writers Trophy and US PGA Tour Player of the Year awards, confirmed his decision to compete at Carton House in Co Kildare from June 27-30 and declared: "It's very special because it's my home event.
"The history of the Irish Open is very special too, with such a great list of champions from Nick Faldo to Seve (Ballesteros), Bernhard Langer, Sergio Garcia and Pádraig Harrington. So many European greats have won that tournament and I think that's what makes it so special."
McIlroy was bowled over by the astonishing support that he, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke received at Royal Portrush earlier this year, when European Tour attendance records were smashed. He insisted: "The fans are incredible. Obviously the support I get back home is unbelievable but the support the Irish fans give in general is great.
"They are very knowledgeable and I think Portrush this year, with its record attendances, was just incredible, seeing so many people come out to watch us play."
McIlroy, who will be targeting a third Major Championship in 2013, will be competing in his seventh Irish Open and his second over the Montgomerie course at Carton House.
The global superstar of today was just a 16-year-old amateur when the event was played at Carton House in 2005, when McIlroy missed the cut. He recalled: "I like Carton House and I've a little bit of history there.
"It was the first Irish Open I played, over the Monty course, and I have great memories of going down there (from Belfast) as part of Irish amateur squads.
"It's a place I enjoy going back to."
Since then, the 2011 US Open Champion and 2012 US PGA winner has contested a further six Irish Opens, with his best finishes coming at Adare Manor in 2008, where he finished seventh, and this year's event in Portrush, where he was tenth behind Welshman Jamie Donaldson.
The challenge of following in the footsteps of Harrington (2007) and Carton House's touring professional, Shane Lowry (2009), is a prime target for McIlroy in 2013 and beyond. He added: "Winning the Irish Open would be very special.
"I know Pádraig Harrington has talked a lot about how he felt when he won and how proud he was of that achievement.
"I'd love to win it, although it's tough to play in front of your home crowds at times.
"It brings its own pressures and you want to do so well for them and they live and breathe every shot with you!
"When you make a bogey there's a big 'aahhhh' and when you make a birdie there's a big roar and it's tough sometimes not to try too hard - but hopefully I am not going to win just one Irish Open but a few Irish Opens in my career."