Van Zyl faces major challenge in Irish Open

The biggest threat to Jaco van Zyl’s performance at the Irish Open at Killarney Golf and Fishing Club this week is the challenge presented by a field containing four Irishmen who hold a fistful of majors.

Van Zyl will know how much pressure there is to perform on local players after he finished tied 13th at the Nordea Masters last week behind Swede Alexander Noren, who recorded a runaway victory in his home town of Stockholm.

The quartet – Rory McIlroy, Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell – have returned to Ireland as heroes and are likely to dominate the Irish Open. “Darren’s magnificent victory at Royal St George’s means the Irish Open will be even more of a celebration this week,” said McIlroy.

The expectations of their fans could make or break these Irish players. Should they do well the support will boost them: “I’m sure the home support will help me along the way,” said Clarke.

But the crowds are expected to be even bigger than last year’s 82,000 fans, and the pressure to perform will sit heavily on the Irish players: “The Irish Open promises to be extra special this year,” said Clarke.

This expectation leaves an opportunity for Van Zyl, who will play with England’s Chris Wood and Danny Willett in a first round that holds far less pressure for the 32-year-old. And he knows both Englishmen from their visits to South Africa.

Should Van Zyl score well in his first round, he might be able to apply some pressure on the Irish quartet, and the Dainfern Country Club professional could record his first win of 2011 in a most unlikely tournament.

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