herald

Monday 11 December 2017

westwood joins rory's royal list

McIlroy convinces Englishman to play at Irish Open

Lee Westwood will make his first appearance in six years in May's Irish Open.

The former world number one and Alejandro Canizares shared the lead on 11 under par at the halfway stage of the Maybank Malaysian Open, but the Englishman took time out after yesterday's second round 67 to announce that he will feature in the May 28-31 tournament at Royal Co Down.

Having already persuaded American Rickie Fowler to return for the first time since the 2007 Walker Cup, Rory McIlroy, fronting the Irish Open through his charitable foundation, again delivered on his promise to lure top players to the event.

That it's on one of the world's great links also convinced Florida resident Westwood to stay on the week after the BMW PGA at Wentworth and play the Irish Open for the first time since 2009 at Baltray.

status

"Royal Co Down has legendary status," said Westwood, who has never performed as a pro in Ulster.

He has enjoyed success on this island, though, winning the European Open back to back at The K Club in 1999 and 2000 and as part of Ian Woosnam's Ryder Cup-winning team there in 2006.

Finn Mikko Ilonen also confirmed he'll defend the Irish Open title he won at Fota Island.

Westwood, the defending champion in Malaysia, started the day level with Graeme McDowell on six under and registered his first birdie on four in Kuala Lumpur.

A bogey on the par-five fifth set him back, but he birdied seven before playing an impressive back nine where he registered four under-par scores.

The Englishman played a neat bunker shot at the 10th, before holing a 12-footer at the 13th and a solid approach saw him able to hole from six feet at the 16th.

Westwood went three clear of the rest after a 20-foot putt for birdie at the last, but Spaniard Canizares, finished 12th in Abu Dhabi and eighth in Qatar this year, was closing in.

Starting the day in sixth, Canizares birdied one, five and eight on the front nine, before scoring four more on the back, including a 20-footer at 15 in a blemish-free round.

Westwood had an impressive opening three rounds in the Gulf last week before a level-par 72 on Sunday in Dubai ruled him out of challenging the winner, McIlroy.

McDowell shot one over and finds himself back in eighth.

Bernd Wiesberger is third on eight under after a second-round 66, with England's Paul Waring and Peter Lawrie of Ireland a further shot behind.

In going bogey-free for the first time in 120 tournament rounds dating back to the 2013 Dubai Desert Classic, Lawrie (40) gave his confidence a massive boost after 20 traumatic months culminated in the loss of his tour card last November.

"I've been in the doldrums since the 2013 Irish Open but my swing is in good shape now and my confidence is coming back. Hopefully. I can keep my name up there," said Lawrie, who was close to a hole-in-one at 15 when his tee-shot hit the pin.

Lawrie received sponsor's invites to play Qatar, Dubai and Malaysia, making the cut in all three.

A top-five finish tomorrow would get him into next week's Thailand Classic, while he's been invited to the Hero Indian Open in a fortnight.

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