Hosted by world champion Rory McIlroy in his home country, this year’s Irish Open holds a lot of promise for punters and golf-fans alike. While the tee-off may still be a few months away, it is already shaping up to be an interesting tournament, full of potential rivalries, upsets, and world-class players.
Although many players have yet to be confirmed, that hasn’t stopped punters from placing early bets.
So, What’s The Story To Date?
The Irish Open is part of the Rolex series of events, alongside the BMW PGA Championship, Open de France, Scottish Open, Italian Open and Race to Dubai. There is a potential €7m purse for the winner, but the money is almost secondary to the success that comes with being a tournament champ. Winners are automatically invited to the other Rolex events and the top ten golfers are allowed to retain their cards for the forthcoming season. Maintaining momentum during these games is essential in any professional’s career and derailing in the middle of the European Tour can seriously injure any players career, guaranteeing a heated tournament by design.
This year, the event is being held at Portstewart Golf Club in Northern Ireland – just down the road from the Royal Portrush course where the Irish Open was held in 2012. Punters can expect to see an influx of local and international talent for the event, with an uncommonly large number of local competitors joining this year’s table. As well as McIlroy, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell are set to be there, as well as a host of newcomers from the local area. These will be players who not only know the lay-of the-land inside out, but are hungry for a win and have a pedigree of doing so.
What’s The Course Like?
The event will be held on the edge of Ulster’s Causeway Coast and is one of the best and most keenly maintained courses in the country. Expect windy weather and a mix of sunshine and drizzle, which may work against those golfers who train in sunny Florida for most of the year.
The event is also set to be viewed by more than 100,000 golf fans, and this international interest has led to the hiring of twenty-five extra greenkeepers to deal with the increased footfall and playthrough.
What Are Attendees Up Against?
The course: The course is placed at a par 72 and it has a reputation for being deceptively difficult for even the most skilled golfers; a challenge that has been raised by recent changes to the 10th, 13th and 14th holes. Some particularly troublesome spots include Hole 2 aka ‘Devils Hill’, which is a particularly tricky Par 4 with a hidden elevation to the green. Hole 7, or ‘Strawberry Hill’ is a gruelling par 5 with an unforgivingly long carry, while Hold 13’s par 5 ‘Cashlandoo’ is placed along a stretch of green which is particularly vulnerable to crosswinds and pockmarked with difficult-to-navigate bunkers.
The weather: Portstewart residents often joke about getting their ‘five allocated days of summer’ and the odds of fair weather lining up with the Irish Open are extremely slim. Courses conditions throughout NI are famously mutable and cloudless skies or torrential downpours are equally common, making it difficult to roll the dice in placing a punt long before the event. A combination of crosswinds from the nearby oceanside or a sodden course from could deny players their much sought after any consistency and lend players that grew up in the area a massive home-turf advantage.
Who’s Taking Part and Who Should I Punt On?
The roster is steadily growing, and bets are already starting to roll in. Unsurprisingly, Rory McIlroy is an early front-runner. After finishing strong at Kildare’s K-Club, the local hero will defend his Irish Open title, and he is almost custom-built to prosper on this course. With freakishly fast acceleration and a high percentile shot accuracy, his drives will help him power down the demanding straights and drop the ball exactly where he needs to. However, he’s not infallible and a misplaced ball could see him forced to lean on his historically poor putting game (although it’s worth noting that he recently hired J.P. Fitzgerald to help him improve). And while he may have a colossal home advantage, don’t count out the other hungry local lads, who are desperate to steal his crown.
Other than McIlroy, some solid punts include-
Shane Lowry: A former Open winner who lifted the trophy as an amateur back in 2009. Known for his predictable and solid play, Lowry has the psychological advantage of a new-born daughter to impress. He has repeatedly expressed his love for the tournament openly and he has been very open about his desire to reclaim this title.
Padraig Harrington: Anther former winner from 2007, Harrington recently underwent surgery for a neck injury to ensure that he was fully prepped for this summer’s competition. This means that he will be kept out of commission for up to ten weeks; a period that will either see him return fully ready and refreshed, or out of practice and recuperating.
Graeme McDowell: The top contender for an outsider punt would be McDowell, who grew up ten minutes away from the course and knows it like the back of his hand. After winning the 2010 US Open, McDowell has seen many of his contemporaries lift the trophy and he has the skill and the will to bring the cup back to his home town.
Of course, it’s not just local lads with form who are challenging McIlroy.
Sergio Garcia: The Spanish golfer has been on incredible form of late, winning his first title against Justin Rose at Augusta. He is currently ranked world number seven and is backed up by a consistent record of 22 top-ten finishes. One of his biggest issues is his nerves, with commenters observing that his Atlanta performance was the calmest they had ever seen him at a major event. However, this may change when he finds out who he is up against…
Justin Rose: The Olympic gold medallist and US Open winner has confirmed that he will be squaring up to his long-time rival after losing out to Garcia in the Masters. Unlike Garcia, Rose relishes the roar of the crowd saying: that “Irish fans are always a lot of fun to play in front of, it’s always good ‘craic’ out there!” While the previous nine-time EU Tour winner has never played in Northern Ireland professionally, he has been a steady fixture in the top-20 tables for five years. Sparks will be flying if he finds himself tallied close to his former Masters competitor.