IRISH OPEN: The Irish Open has steadily grown in prestige in recent years and now boasts an incredibly strong international field, with players from all over the world eager to immerse themselves in the intricacies of links golf in preparation for the upcoming Open Championship. And they will face a true links test this year, as Portstewart GC in Northern Ireland is set to host the event for the first time.
Much like nearby Royal Portrush, which hosted this tournament in 2012, Portstewart is a coastal layout that is very playable in calm conditions but can be downright diabolical when the wind is whipping, particularly the more-exposed back nine. Its terrain is more undulating than many links courses and high sandhills are a defining feature, especially on the front nine. Aside from those generalities we really don’t have much to go on this week, as Portstewart has not hosted a tournament of this caliber… well, ever. It was the site of the British Ladies Amateur in 2015 and the Irish Amateur way back in 1992, but this week marks the first time in its 123-year history that it will truly be the epicenter of the golfing universe. I’m sure the locals are interested to see how their course holds up.
Rory McIlroy is back to defend the title that he won at the K Club last year, and the Ulsterman is sure to be the fan favorite once again. He hasn’t been playing his best in 2017, but he was last seen firing a final-round 64 at the Travelers Championship a couple of weeks ago, so I wouldn’t be too concerned about the state of his game. He heads BETDAQ’s Win Market at 7.6, and I’m quite sure he’ll see plenty of action at that price. There are only six players this week whose odds are currently shorter than 28/1, so the field is a bit top-heavy, with the likes of McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, and Justin Rose standing out as a class above the rest. But links golf can be quite unpredictable at times, and with heavy rains in the forecast this week some players might be eliminated on account of catching the wrong side of the draw.
Getting used to the conditions and the style of golf can be a challenge to those who don’t experience it often, which is probably why someone from Great Britain and Ireland has won this tournament in 8 of the past 10 years. As trends go, that seems like one worth paying attention to.
We almost struck gold last week with David Lingmerth at the Quicken Loans National, but he wriggled off the hook on Sunday after leading the tournament for the first three days (still should’ve been a profitable week for those who got him at 37.0, however). Let’s see if we can find someone who can finish the job this week…
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Rafa Cabrera-Bello (34.0)- For as good as he is, Cabrera-Bello doesn’t win enough. He hasn’t won on the European Tour since 2012, and he has yet to taste victory in 44 career PGA Tour starts. But that’s the only justification– the ONLY justification– for having him priced at 34.0 this week. This is a guy who has really come on over the past couple of years, consistently contending in big-time tournaments on both sides of the Atlantic. He has an especially good Irish Open record, finishing 26th or better in 6 of his past 9 appearances, and his very best performances have come on the Northern Ireland links courses– he was runner-up at Portrush in 2012 and finished just a shot out of the playoff at Royal County Down in 2015. He’s logged two top-5s in his last four PGA Tour starts, dating back to the Players Championship, and he was solid at the BMW International a couple of weeks ago, finishing 26th, so he’s in fine form at the moment. All things considered, this seems like the most likely spot for the talented Spaniard to bust out of his multi-year win drought. And rest assured, he will end the drought– it’s only a matter of time. Maybe the time is now.
Paul Dunne (64.0)- This is a good price for Dunne, the young Irishman who made the cut at the K Club last year in his debut in this tournament but couldn’t get anything going over the weekend. He’s coming off a strong showing in France, tying for 13th after a final-round 65, and he’s finished 33rd or better in 4 of his last 5 European Tour starts, a stretch that includes a runner-up showing at the Trophee Hassan II. A seasoned links player for his age, he has a couple of quality showings at the Dunhill Links under his belt, and of course he’s probably best known for holding the 54-hole lead at the 2015 Open as an amateur. A win this week would really be a breakthrough for Dunne, but he has the ability, he’s playing well at the moment, and he’ll have the crowd behind him. He’s my pick for low Irishman and I certainly think he’s worth a bet at better than 60/1.
Renato Paratore (98.0)- At just 20 years old and already with one European Tour win to his credit, Paratore is a phenomenal young talent who is still relatively unknown outside of Europe, though that will change as he contends in major championships, which he is bound to do soon. A decorated amateur who first earned his European Tour card when he was just 17, Paratore has consistently improved as a pro and was able to pick up his maiden victory just a few weeks ago at the Nordea Masters. He followed that up with a 6th-place showing at the BMW International, and I’d be very careful about reading too much into his Thursday 77 in France last week– this is a guy who’s in the midst of the best stretch of his young career, and I’m sure he’s brimming with confidence right now. He’s got a great feel for the game and has shown a knack for links golf, finishing 7th in the Dunhill Links last year and making the cut at the Scottish Open (he made the cut in this event last year as well, but that isn’t representative of his links ability, as the K Club isn’t a links course). Don’t be surprised if Paratore makes some serious noise this week– he should be backed enthusiastically at the current price.
TOURNAMENT MATCH BETS
Andrew Johnston (1.91) vs. Pablo Larrazabal (1.91)
The man they call Beef has cleaned things up in recent weeks, rebounding from a rough stretch to make three consecutive cuts– one of those being the U.S. Open– and register top-25s at the BMW PGA and last week’s Open de France. He’s had some success on links courses, too, most notably his T8 at last year’s Open Championship, but he hasn’t fared as well in the Irish Open, particularly in Northern Ireland, where he missed the cut at both Royal Portrush (2012) and Royal County Down (2015). Larrazabal, meanwhile, has been playing extremely well this season, finding the top-25 in six of his past seven starts and nearly winning a couple of times. He also has a nice record in this event, finishing 31st or better in 3 of his 4 career appearances and logging a top-5 back in 2013. Recommendation: Larrazabal at 1.91
Thorbjorn Oleson (1.91) vs. Tyrrell Hatton (1.91)
Oleson is a popular pick this week due to his strong showing in France last week and his solid record on links courses, a record that includes a win and a runner-up at the Dunhill Links, three top-10s in four Irish Open appearances, and a top-10 at the Open five years ago. But as good as he’s been on the links, his record of achievement on such courses doesn’t quite measure up to Hatton’s, a man who would be known as a links specialist if it weren’t for the fact that he’s had success on pretty much all types of courses. But he clearly feels most at home on the links, and last year he showed it by winning the Dunhill Links (Carnoustie/Kingsbarns/St. Andrews), finishing runner-up in the Scottish Open (Castle Stuart), and then registering a top-5 at the Open Championship (Royal Troon). He’s been a little inconsistent over the past couple of months, but I don’t see how you bet against him at Portstewart in a heads-up situation like this. Recommendation: Hatton at 1.91