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The 148th Open Royal Portrush

What they said


The best quotes from Practice Day 2

With three days to go until the first ball is belted down the first fairway at The 148thOpen, the stars have aligned at Royal Portrush to catch their first glimpse of this prestigious links.

Tiger Woods, Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson were out practising together in the morning, while 2017 Champion Golfer Jordan Spieth teed off in the afternoon.

But sizing up pin positions and staying out of bunkers was not the only item on some players' itinerary, as four sat down in front of the world’s press.

Here are the best bits:

Clarke chilled ahead of Thursday

If Darren Clarke is nervous at the prospect of hitting the first shot at The 148thOpen, then it didn’t show during his press conference.

The 2011 Champion Golfer of the Year is understandably on cloud nine after spending much of the last two weeks showing off his hometown club to the world.

R&A Chief Executive Martin Slumbers made the call to see if Clarke was keen. His answer was emphatic.

“Mr Slumbers asked me about three weeks ago if I would do them the honour of hitting the opening tee shot. And it's Royal Portrush and when The R&A asked you, it's a definite yes. I said I'd love it,” he said.

“Will there be tears? No. I'll just be very proud that we have it back here in Northern Ireland. It goes without saying, it's a huge thing to have it in Northern Ireland again.

“It's going to be an amazing tournament. If you see how many people were in here yesterday watching and again today and all the practice tickets are all sold out. The atmosphere is going to be sensational.”

As a Royal Portrush veteran, and one of the only players in the field who have played the Dunluce links, Clarke could make his experience tell.

So how does he suggest the players approach it?

“You can try and take it on at your peril, if you want to, or you can try to play smart and take the ball over corners, but with doing that you need to be very committed to your lines," he added.

“Because if you're taking an iron and going over, if you push that five, ten yards, you're in thick rough, lost ball, and you have to be committed. It's going to be interesting to see how the guys play it.”

Molinari eyes the double

One man who has to be considered among the favourites is Francesco Molinari and the Italian is loving every minute of defending his title this week.

Molinari, who so memorably became Italy’s first major champion at Carnoustie a year ago, handed the Claret Jug back to The R&A this week.

“It would be incredible, obviously [to win again]," he said. I'm well aware of the challenges ahead. There's a lot of guys capable this week of winning the trophy.

“All I can do is my best, try to put up a good defence and be in contention on Sunday.”

This week finishes off a brilliant 12 months for Molinari, who also recorded a tied-6th finish at the 2018 PGA Championship and a T-5 at the Masters.

It’s fair to say his existence has been considerably altered.

“It changes your life, really, especially for a guy like me that likes to go a little bit under the radar and doesn't really need the attention,” he added.

“It changes a lot in terms of everyday life, getting recognised by more people, commitments. Every tournament you play there's more things to do.

“And obviously time with the media, but also with sponsors and various different things to do. That's been the other adaptation that I needed to get used to.”

Tommy has target in his sight

Molinari could come up against his Ryder Cup partner in crime Tommy Fleetwood, the Englishman who is chasing a first major this week.

The 2018 US Open runner-up will play alongside Justin Thomas and Thorbjorn Olesen during the first two rounds and likes what he has already seen.

“The last two days have for sure been pretty eye-opening. I don't think it will be 70-some-odd years again until we come back," he said.

“But playing yesterday the crowds that turned up for a Sunday before a major were great. And I just think in general the venue, the course is great, can play so many different ways depending on the wind.

“It's been really nice to get a feel for it and the atmosphere is great. The fans here, it's a nice golfing heritage so it's nice to play in front of them.”

Sugrue in awe

Fleetwood is guaranteed a fervent support but one of the loudest cheers will surely be reserved for James Sugrue, the Amateur Champion.

The Cork native defeated Euan Walker in a tense 36-hole contest last month and is embarking on his first Open.

"I was actually quite nervous hitting my first practice tee shot today, the grandstands just come right around you and there wasn't even that many people in the grandstand, so I can only image what it's going to be like on Thursday,” he said.

"I'm really looking forward to it, especially after finding out I'm playing with Darren [Clarke] in the first group. It's just a dream come true as I've watched The Open my whole life and to get the chance to play in it is unbelievable."

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