Something about J P: why world's best golfers will do anything for Irish charmer

An all-star sporting cast is playing for free because J P McManus asked them to. James Corrigan reports from Limerick
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But why is it that Tiger Woods has deigned to appear without the requisite appearance fee that is reported to be $2m (£1.3m) to leave the States nowadays, and why Ernie Els, Davis Love, Luke Donald, Michael Campbell, and more major winners than you could throw a golf stick at, are joining him to play for no money, with - get this - no corporate spin-offs. Why, why, why, why?

The answer is not even as long as the question itself, in fact one letter less - J P. "That's why we're all here," announced Woods yesterday when asked about the fascination with a pro-am that is now a regular and wholly unique part of the golfing calendar every five years.

"It's about J P. All about J P." In Ireland - and, yes, some rather bitter parts of Manchester after he and his partner John Magnier, sold the shares that ultimately led to the Malcolm Glazer takeover - those initials need no suffix; J P McManus is that well known. Well, well known in the sense that everybody knows who he is, but this shy currency trader remains something of a mystery. And in the image of its creator, so too does the "J P McManus Pro-Am".

Take Els. The South African feels so tired after rushing back to South Africa last week for his grandfather's funeral, that by yesterday evening he was still undecided whether to play at the Scottish Open that starts tomorrow at Loch Lomond, the course he says is "one of my most favourite in the whole world". The world No 3 never even considered pulling out of this event, on a course he had never played before. "That wasn't an option," he said yesterday, before flying back to Wentworth. But why? Those initials again. "J P."

Woods' own efforts to get here further emphasise this unconditional loyalty to the legendary racehorse-owning gambler long ago christened "Lord of the Ring". On Sunday night, at about 6pm Central District Time, the 29-year-old finished second to Jim Furyk in the Western Open. The world No 1 cursed his luck, changed his shoes, jumped in a car, hotfooted it to the airport and jumped on a jet provided by McManus and was on the Adare Golf Club practice range by 11am after a few hours' sleep en route.

He was the lucky one. Luke Donald was on that plane, too, as were seven of his American Tour colleagues, but, as there were only six beds, the younger member of this most select band that included Love, Fred Couples, Lee Janzen and Ben Curtis missed out. "I would have got in on world rankings," the Englishmen quipped.

But only just. There were eight of the world's top 20 here and when Campbell, the recently crowned US Open champion, called it the "strongest field on European soil so far this year", he was not joking. But perhaps he could be the one to tell us why? "This is my way of saying, 'Thanks, J P'," he said. "And I'll tell you why." Now were we getting somewhere? Er, no. What followed was a nice enough little tale about how the richest man in all Limerick and, most believe, all Ireland, once paid for a round of drinks when the New Zealander mislaid his wallet. Well, wouldn't most billionaires whose Christian name wasn't Ebenezer? "Yes, but it's the way he does things," Woods said. "He doesn't have to, but he does and it's just unbelievable. Any time I can support him I'll be there. You have no idea what he's done for me in my life." But what, Tiger? "Well, he was gracious enough to have a special day for me and my wife at a hotel he owns. These are wonderful things."

Overlooking the fact that any hotelier worth his five stars would gladly give over their marketing budget for the entire year to have Mr and Mrs Woods in their guest book, that story at least shows the essence of McManus, a man who lives by the creed, "you get the most out of people by not expecting too much". And boy, how much he has got out of this merry lot.

Forget the golfers, forget the businessman numbering Dermot Desmond and Joe Lewis, forget the other sporting superstars in attendance here that included Michael Owen, Gordon Strachan and Martin O'Neill giving up their time so courteously and forget that almost every last euro of the "token" €1m (£700,000) prize fund was put straight back into the many local charities that form the basis of the McManus pro-am. And consider the auction at last night's Gala Ball.

More was expected than the £1m that a round with Woods in Florida fetched at the last "tournament", while phone-figure sums were marked up for an Aston Martin DB9, 18 holes with Jodie Kidd, a few commissioned paintings including a portrait of Woods and a signed, framed Grammy from U2's Bono. At Limerick Golf Club in 2000, the auction contributed towards the £15m raised. That figure was forecast to be doubled last night. J P had all but guaranteed it.

But more so had his quite incredible cast list, who proved that this was no ordinary "charidee day" to help garner the caring, sharing image so loved by their publicists as they temporarily banished the professionals' widely held hatred of pro-ams and annoyingly wayward and worse, "chatty", playing partners. As Ian Woosnam was swamped by autograph hunters on the second hole of yesterday's round, leading to an urgent plea for a few more marshals to protect the European Ryder Cup captain, image did not seem important at all. Indeed, the day before Padraig's Harrington pen had run out by the ninth. "It's a bit of fun," he said, with the merest hint of sarcasm.

Everything else was genuine, though. Apart from the competition. For the record, Harrington won as Woods relinquished his title. But only one title mattered - J P. And don't even ask "why?"

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