Clement Sordet: Holder set to defend Northern Ireland Open title at Galgorm Castle
Last year's winner Clement Sordet looks set to aim for a repeat triumph at next week's Northern Ireland Open.
The Frenchman is among 13 winners on this year's European Challenge Tour to have submitted entries for the Galgorm Castle tournament.
Sordet, 23, won last year's event on only his fourth Challenge Tour start.
The former Texas Tech University student is currently 18th in the Challenge Tour rankings having triumphed in Turkey in early May.
However with the only the top 15 at the season's end guaranteed to earn promotion to the main European Tour, Sordet still has work to do in order to ensure progression to the top tier.
Nice native Sordet played at the Open Championship last week when he spoke at a press conference following the attack which killed over 80 people in his home city.
Sordet fired a closing 66 to edge out American John Hahn by a stroke in last year's event at the Ballymena venue.
Hahn has also filed an entry for next week's tournament and will also be hoping for a high finish as he is currently 27th in the Challenge Tour rankings.
As it stands, all of this year's 13 different Challenge Tour winners are in the provisional Galgorm entries.
Those include current Race to Oman leader, England's Jordan L Smith plus current fourth-placed Frenchman Damien Perrier.
German duo Bernd Ritthammer and Alexander Knappe have filed entries while other Challenge Tour winners from this year in the provisional players list include Norway's Espen Kofstad, Portugal's Jose-Felipe Lima, England's James Heath plus Sweden's Sebastian Soderberg, who has dropped to ninth in the order of merit after winning the season opener in Kenya.
As ever, the Galgorm Castle will include a large contingent of European Tour winners.
Tournament host Michael Hoey has clinched five victories on the main tour while twice Russian Open champion and 2014 Lyoness Open champion Mikael Lundberg is another multiple European Tour winner in the provisional entries.
Lewis among provisional NI Open entries
Other entries of note include 2011 Portugal Masters champion, England's Tom Lewis and his compatriot Mark Foster while three-time European Tour winner Johan Edfors is set to make a return visit after playing at Galgorm Castle two years ago.
The list of main tour winners in the provisional field also includes experienced Irish trio Peter Lawrie, Damien McGrane and Simon Thornton.
At the other end of the age scale, 13-year-old talent Tom McKibbin has been invited to compete in his first professional tournament while One Direction star Niall Horan will be among a number of celebrities playing in the pre-tournament pro-am.
Horan's sports management company were central in securing McKibbin's participation in the tournament proper while other stars playing in the pro-am include Northern Ireland football great Pat Jennings and Ulster and Ireland rugby hero Stephen Ferris.