The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

After more than a half-century, British Open will return to Northern Ireland in 2019

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PINEHURST, N.C. - For only the second time, golf's oldest major championship will be played in Northern Ireland when the British Open returns to Royal Portrush Golf Club in 2019.

Media reports from Ireland and the United Kingdom said the Royal & Ancient, golf's governing body outside the United States and Mexico, will make the formal announcement Monday. The R&A denied reports about a return to Portrush last summer, saying the course was championship-calibre but questioning whether the infrastructure could accommodate the event's big galleries.

There was speculation that R&A officials may have changed their minds after Ted Bishop, president of the PGA of America, said last November that his group was interested in Portrush as a venue for the PGA Championship if the event was to be held outside the United States. The earliest date that might happen would be 2020.

Major champions and Northern Irishmen Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell had been lobbying on Portrush's behalf.

"I've been kind of hesitant to comment because I really didn't want to take anything away from the official announcement," said McDowell, who was three shots off the lead Thursday after the opening round of the U.S. Open at Pinehurst.

"So I'm very proud of where I grew up. I'm very proud of the tradition and history there, and to bring an Open Championship back to Northern Ireland is very special. It speaks volumes about how far the country has come."

The only time the Open was only played outside England and Scotland was 1951, when Max Faulkner won at Portrush.

The 2012 Irish Open was played at Portrush, with more than 100,000 fans attending the event.

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