England’s Daniel Gavins hopes a return to the site of his remarkable first DP World Tour victory can inspire a change in fortunes.
Gavins overturned a seven-shot deficit in the final round of the ISPS Handa World Invitational last year, carding a bogey-free 65 at Galgorm Castle to set a target of 13 under par which none of the later starters could match.
The 31-year-old also finished sixth in the Dunhill Links Championship in October but has recorded just one top 10 in 2022 and comes into the week on the back of seven missed cuts and two withdrawals in his last 10 starts.
“I started the year really well,” Gavins said. “I made eight of the first 10 cuts. The last few months has been a hard struggle really. I haven’t quite found it on the course.
“I’ve been playing nicely and last week I felt like my game was really nice. I just need to stay patient, but it’s hard in this game. You just want to do well every week.
“I’m not enjoying it as much as I was at the start of the year. I think that’s the main thing for me, coming in and enjoying it a bit more, taking away the pressure of doing well, taking each week as it comes and keep it going that way.
“It feels really good to be back here. I was just walking around a few holes, remembering shots that I hit last year. It’s nice coming into the entrance and seeing all these posters up with my face on them.”
World number 77 Richard Bland is the only male player in the top 100 in the field in an event tri-sanctioned by the DP World Tour, LPGA Tour and Ladies European Tour which sees men’s and women’s tournaments taking place simultaneously in County Antrim.
Players will complete 18 holes at Galgorm Castle and 18 at Massereene Golf Club before a halfway cut – to the top 60 and ties – is made in each tournament, with a further cut after 54 holes to the top 35 players and ties.
The £2.5million purse will be split evenly in an event which was elevated to European Tour status following a successful inaugural edition on the Challenge Tour in 2019, when home favourite Stephanie Meadow won the women’s tournament and Jack Senior claimed the men’s title.
Ireland’s Leona Maguire will have plenty of support as she bids for the title on the back of a tie for fourth – her best major result to date – in the AIG Women’s Open at Muirfield.
“I think Muirfield you couldn’t switch off for a second,” Maguire said. “Like most links courses, you really have to pick your targets and execute as well.
“So you want to prepare as well as you possibly can, but at the same time conserve energy too. There a little bit more demands on my time this week as well than normally would be at any other LPGA event.
“It’s nice to be home and in front of home fans this week. I have plenty of friends and family coming to watch this week that don’t normally get to see me play normally, so it will be nice to have them all around.”