Monday, 16 May 2016

Irish Open 2016 - Palmer Course, K Club

It's summer time ! The Europeantour returns to Europe having had a quick check-in at Valderrama last month and we'll see loads of action in this part of the world over the next few weeks starting in Ireland for the Rory McIlroy-hosted Irish Open. Since Rory has taken on the host role, the plan has been to bring the Irish Open around the country each year and following a very successful event at Royal County Down last May, we will see a strong field assemble to play The Palmer Course,host of the 2006 Ryder Cup at the K Club, in County Kildare. The course hosted the European Open on ten occasions from 1995 to 2003 and again in 2005 (the Smurfit course hosted in between and again in 2006 & 2007). Whilst the majority of Irish Opens over the years have been staged at links courses, the Palmer course will be a direct contrast and more "American Parkland" style. The course measures ~7300yards and will offer up birdie opportunities on all the par-5s, but the tournament maybe decided on the par-4s particularly on the back nine. The 15th & 17th could prove pivotal come Sunday and will require accurate drives on both if needing birdies. The week though for Irish golf will be saddened with the news that one of Ireland's best golfers, Christy O'Connor ("Himself") passed away last weekend. It might be worth remembering that whilst the prize fund this weeks exceeds €4M, it was Himself that became the first golfer to win a five-figure sum on the European Tour in 1955. Christy had many admirers worldwide none more so than Seve Ballesteros and was inducted into The Hall of Fame in 2009. "Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam"





Previous winners on the course include Berhard Langer, Per-Ulrik Johannson (twice) , Lee Westwood (twice), Darren Clarke and Michael Campbell. Clarke shot a second round 60 here in 1999, backed that up with a third round 66 before a ten shot swing on the Sunday saw Westwood pip him. The winners list above suggests that solid ball striking is required here so those arriving with decent form of late should be considered. The greens should be in great shape for the week ( they weren't in the early days) so I do expect a low scoring affair. The weather has improved significantly the first week in May and from a spectator point of view let's hope it remains but early forecasts predict showers Thursday (this event seems destined to be plagued by rain no matter what month it's staged). In excess of 30,000 will attend each day (we could see close to 40,000 on Saturday & Sunday) as Rory McIlroy tries to bring a home win. Shane Lowry should go well here too. The late Christy O'Connor Junior, nephew to Himself, won the last Irish Open to be staged at Woodbrook GC in 1975. (That Irish Open was the first to be played since 1953). If the Major winners already mentioned winning The European Open at the K Club weren't big enough names , then how about the list of Irish Open winners of Ben Crenshaw, Hubert Green, Seve, Monty, Sergio Garcia, Sam Torrance, Ken Brown, Mark James, Ian Woosnam, Nick Faldo, Olazabal, Langer, Micahel Campbell, Thomas Bjorn, Shane Lowry and Padraig Harrington? Three time winners include Seve, Faldo & Montgomerie. History shows that the Irish Open title is a much coveted one. In years gone by, Harry Bradshaw, Fred Daly & Bobby Locke have also won this title. Harrington finally brought a home win at Adare Manor in 2007 having not had a winner since John O'Leary won in 1982 and Shane Lowry introduced himself to the world by winning at a rain-sodden Baltray in 2009. Darren Clarke & Graeme McDowell have been trying in recent years but given the roll of honour here, you can be assured that Rory McIlroy has this title in his list of goals and he wont find a better course in Ireland than this to suit his bid to do so.

So who has he to beat this week ? Course "specialist", Lee Westwood who went close at Augusta and saw the Masters Champion Danny Willett prevail there up close last month, makes a welcome return and he will be joined by the Masters Champion. David Lingmerth is also entered to play and given the strong Swedish success at the course, could be one to keep an eye on. Speaking of Major winners, the field will include Martin Kaymer, YE Yang, as well as the other four Irish Major winners. WGC champion Russell Knox will join fellow WGC Champion, Shane Lowry, and will be looking to impress Darren Clarke here on a rare European Tour trip and the field is completed with just about anyone who has ideas of a strong Race to Dubai campaign. It looks to be one of the strongest line-ups in history and I can't wait to see the action when I attend on Sunday with my father. Will we get a Rory win or indeed a "big name" winner ? Whilst the history shows a who's who of World Golf have won this we have also had a few "surprise" winners over recent years. In all due respect, the wins of Richard Finch, Stephen Dodd, and Patrik Sjoland came from nowhere although to be fair to the Welshman he also won the European Open at the K Club in Ryder Cup year in 2006, albeit on the Smurfit course, so perhaps he has a thing for Ireland ?

Rory will be the one to beat, there's no doubt but there is no value in backing him to do so especially as his putting needs to improve. His results of late are a bit flattering considering he's never been in the mix yet completes a number of TOP10s. Twelfth at Sawgrass, despite missing a bucket load of putts,indicates that tee to green he's on fire and it's that game that will suit the K Club. Start making some putts and Rory wins this and his summer campaign steps up to another level. Padraig Harrington ended a 25 year wait for a home win in 2007 and it seemed to propel the Dubliner onto the World stage, winning The Open just ten weeks later. Rory will be looking for something similar here where he won't have Jason Day or Jordan Spieth to deal with. The home crowd expects !

Whilst prices will ultimately decide my final staking plan, my early thoughts are centred around Matthew Fitzpatrick, Joost Luiten, Tommy Fleetwood, Bernd Wiesbereger, Lucas Bjerregaard, Thomas Pieters and Alex Noren although 80/1 now tempts me in. I do think Shano will go well too as should Lee Westwood and it may just fit Martin Kaymer's eye too.

My final selections will be here on Tuesday evening