US Open champions Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell will try to cap Irish golf's greatest period by winning the US$7.5 million Omega Mission Hills World Cup in November.
Organisers trumpeted the glamour pairing yesterday, along with Masters winner Charl Schwartzel and another reigning major champion, Martin Kaymer, for the November 24-27 event, which has been moved from the Mission Hills complex in Shenzhen to its new resort on Hainan Island.
No country is hotter than Ireland in golf at the moment. Since Irishman Padraig Harrington's breakout four years ago when he won the 2007 British Open and then retained it the following year and added the 2008 US PGA Championship for good measure, Irish golf has exploded thanks to three Northern Irishmen.
McDowell stunned the Americans on their home soil at the US Open in 2010, McIlroy stole that crown in record style in June and then Darren Clarke joined the party in a victory for the fortysomethings at the British Open last month.
By a strange quirk in Ireland's sporting history, golf is an all-Ireland team, while many other sports are two separate teams.
The two 'Macs' came so close to winning the 2009 World Cup, losing by a stroke to Italy's Molinari brothers - Edoardo and Francesco. Unlike many of the game's stars, McDowell and McIlroy embraced the World Cup and urged more countries to send their best players.
There was no surprise yesterday when McIlroy, who is ranked fifth in the world, picked close friend and Ryder Cup hero McDowell (12th) as his partner for the event, which was changed to biennial so it would not clash with golf in the Olympics.
'Graeme and I really enjoyed the experience at Mission Hills two years ago,' McIlroy said. 'We only missed out by a shot, and are looking forward to forming the Irish team again and trying to go one better this time.'
McDowell said: 'There is nothing quite like representing Europe in the Ryder Cup or Ireland in the World Cup. It's a real buzz. We worked well as a partnership two years ago, and we can't wait to try to claim the title.'
Friendship was also the factor behind Schwartzel, who won his first major at Augusta National in April, selecting last year's British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen as his partner.
'Louis and I always said that whichever one of us was higher in the world ranking at the cut-off would select the other,' Schwartzel said. 'We played a lot together as youngsters and I always looked up to Louis, so it's a great opportunity for us to represent our country.'
Francesco Molinari, the highest ranked Italian at 23 in the world, could have selected Matteo Manassero (30th) as his partner, but opted for his brother (43rd) instead. US PGA champion and world No 3 Kaymer will represent Germany hoping to emulate his country's victory in Barbados in 2006 when Bernhard Langer and Marcel Siem triumphed.
England's Ian Poulter and America's Matt Kuchar have also confirmed their participation, and will select their partners at a later date.
Sweden's Robert Karlsson, who partnered Henrik Stenson to victory at the original Mission Hills in 2008 and finished joint runners-up with Ireland in 2009, is a confirmed participant, as are Alvaro Quiros of Spain, Scotland's Martin Laird, and Anders Hansen of Denmark, who has reborn Thomas Bjorn as his partner.
Eighteen exempt nations out of the 28 participating at Hainan Island have confirmed their entry, with partners to be confirmed by August 22. Nine more nations will qualify via the regional qualifiers in Asia, Europe and South America, with the top three from each gaining exemption.
The Asian qualifier starts today in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, where 17 two-man teams will chase the three tickets to Hainan. Hong Kong will be represented by Wong Woon-man and William Fung Wai-kuen at the Seri Selangor Golf Club.
As the host nation, China qualifies for the event automatically.