Last Wednesday I made the winding trip North to Enniskillen to witness the “The Lough Erne Challenge” between Rory McIlroy and Padraig Harrington on the spanking new Faldo designed Lough Erne layout. It was a throwback to those “Shell’s Wonderful World Of Golf” specials where the likes of Snead and diVicenzo would battle it out for five grand. No recession around Lough Erne however as the pot of €200,000 covered a sizeable mortgage and double the predicted number of paying customers (around 7,000) turned up to cheer on their hero es.
As well as revisiting the fabulous Lough Erne, my mission was to see first hand what all the furore about Padraig Harrington’s swing was about and to consider how it would compare to Rory’s. As the match progressed you could say that, in Formula One terms, there was only thousands of a second between the two. Where McIlroy had the edge on the fairway, Harrington ruled the greens. The fact that the format was strokeplay took any needle out of the match and both Harrington and McIlroy played with the air of respect and friendship that is bound to reap dividends in many Ryder Cup’s to come.
Rory McIlroy plays an approach during the Lough Erne Challenge.
First to Rory; he was on pole with the bookies and got off the line quicker with birdie on the first to Padraig’s stuttering bogey. McIlroy continued to be on fire off the tee and with his irons playing a flawless high hard draw throughout. I may be corrected on this, but I cannot remember him chipping more than once all day, as he cruised to an effortless four under par 68 and course record into the bargain. Of course, as the resorts touring pro Ror’s did have a slight advantage in having played some of the holes before. Privately however, he will be slightly disappointed in not having converted several of the makeable putts that I reckon could have seen around in 63. The day when they all drop is nigh.
And to Padraig who is playing the role of Lewis Hamilton these days, an undisputed champion who is just waiting for the next improvement package to bring him back into contention. On the day, I thought Padraig’s swing was excellent, very Hogan like with a firm right leg on the backswing. His ball flight was low and arrow straight and though he did let one or two shots stray off line he made up for it with a display of masterful chipping and putting that only belongs to major champions. Harrington finished on two under par, two shots behind McIlroy, but having wrung every last drop from his short game.
In match terms, the difference between the players was an errant drive from Harrington on the stunning stadium hole 10th which cost a shot. Indeed he could have easily finished one or two shots better but for an approach shot on the 11th costing double bogey, which cruelly skidded off the green into a hazard, when it looked to be stitched on landing. That left Padraig five behind in the match and though to his immense credit he birdied four of the next six, the match was won by the rock solid McIlroy.
Left: Platinum One’s Johnny O’Shea meeting and greeting during the Duel whilst Right: Lough Erne Golf Manager Andy Campbell holds off the rain and marshals the crowds.
There were lots of interesting cameo’s on the Lough also including the players landing (slightly comically) on a sea plane, the Henley-ish regatta in the water beside the tenth green and actor Jimmy Nesbitt popping up now and again dressed up like a golfer! Men of the Match included Platinum One event organizer, and Amir Khan lookalike, Johnny O’Shea, who deserved some sort of award for not only staging a top class event but for having the dodgiest pair of trainers I have ever seen worn on a golf course. I have heard singers being accused of having “no soul”, but O’Shea’s runners brought that phrase to a whole new level. Then there was Lough Erne Golf Manager Andy Campbell, who, though supposedly was being helped by a throng of plus-four clad marshals, single handedly produced an exhibition in crowd control not witnessed since Charlton Heston’s Moses parted the waters in “Ten Commandments”. Divine intervention or not, Lough Erne’s “Duel On The Lough” proved a fantastic success to be remembered for years to come by all who witnessed it.