Northern Ireland Open: Hoey paired with Edfors at Galgorm

NI Open: Michael Hoey helps Reeve Whitson ahead of Galgorm event

Michael Hoey will have three-time European Tour winner Johan Edfors for company over the opening two days of the Northern Ireland Open Challenge.

A strong field will tee up in the European Challenge Tour event at Galgorm Castle but Hoey and Edfors are the biggest names in the 156-man entry.

Tournament ambassador Hoey and Edfors will be joined by Jordi Garcia Pinto.

Spaniard Garcia Pinto is third in this season's Challenge Tour rankings after winning the event at St Omer in France.

Hoey and Edfors will tee off at 13:10 BST and they are sure to attract a large following given that over 33,000 tickets have already been snapped up for the event.

The Galgorm field also includes South African Jake Roos who will earn promotion to the main tour if he can triumph at the Ballymena venue.

This is because Roos, 33, has already won events in Kenya and Germany this season and three victories in a Challenge Tour season guarantees immediate promotion to the lucrative main tour.

German player Moritz Lampert has already achieved this feat in 2014 which means he is teeing up at this week's Italian Open in Turin.

NI Open: Hoey helps Whitson ahead of Galgorm event
Johan Edfors
Johan Edfors is playing on the Challenge Tour this season after losing his main tour card last year

Hoey, while he has not added to his five European Tour wins, is having the most consistent season of his career with five top-10 finishes achieved so far in 2014.

The Belfast man, 35, is currently 40th in the Race to Dubai standings but remains entirely comfortable with his decision to skip the Italian Open in order to give something back to Northern Ireland golf.

"I have wanted to do things right promoting the Northern Ireland Open Challenge and I have spent a fair bit of time on it," says Hoey.

"When you see what the younger lads can get from the tournament being held here it makes it worthwhile."

While Hoey and Edfors are likely to prove the big draw on the opening day, the field is laden with European Tour winners and players who have represented Europe in the Ryder Cup.

Oliver Wilson, who played in the 2008 Ryder Cup at Valhalla, is back for another challenge at Galgorm after being edged out in a play-off by Dutchman Daan Huizing 12 months ago.

Wilson was hugely impressed by the venue and overall organisation of last year's inaugural Northern Ireland Open at the Ballymena venue and will be paired by South Africa Roos and Ireland's Niall Kearney over the opening two days.

07:50 BST: Gareth Shaw, Bjorn Akesson, Brandon Stone
07:50 (10th): Ruaidhri McGee, Joakim Lagergren, Dermot McElroy (am)
08:00: Niall Kearney, Oliver Wilson, Jake Roos
09:20: Rhys Davies, Brendan McCarroll, Jonathan Caldwell
13:10: Michael Hoey, Johan Edfors, Jordi Garcia Pinto
13:20: Edouard Espana, Philip Price, Robert Coles
13:20 (10th): Alan Dunbar, Jeff Winther, Jesus Legarrea
14:10 (10th): Reeve Whitson, Michael McGeady, Ricardo Gouveia

2002 Ryder Cup hero Philip Price is also in the field while other European Tour winners in action include Welshman Rhys Davies, English duo Ross McGowan and Kenneth Ferrie plus Austrian Martin Wiegele.

In terms of other visiting players to look out, Chile's Mark Tullo comes into the event in good form after his recent Challenge Tour win in Finland while French duo Benjamin Hebert and Thomas Linard have also achieved victories this season, as have Scotland's Andrew McArthur and Welshman Oliver Farr.

Australian-born Daniel Gaunt, currently 22nd in the Challenge Tour order of merit, could also be in contention as he showed his liking for the course when edged out in a play-off at the 2010 EuroPro event at Galgorm.

In terms of home challengers alongside Hoey, Derryman Ruaidhri McGee could be worth a flutter after showing some encouraging form on the Challenge circuit this season and a 25th spot at the Lyoness Open on the main tour as well.

Other local hopefuls include Gareth Shaw, Brendan McCarroll, Michael McGeady and Damien Mooney plus former Walker Cup players Jonathan Caldwell and Alan Dunbar.

Ballymena amateur Dermot McElroy returns to the event after an impressive top-10 finish last year while Reeve Whitson will tee up as a professional after moving to the paid ranks earlier in the summer.

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