Two winners in four weeks….that’s the kind of hit rate that any golf punter would be pleased with. After Charley Hoffman did the business for us at 30/1 back in April, our 12/1 pick Jason Day led from wire-to-wire at the Players Championship at the weekend to ensure we picked up another full purse. Good times.
Of course, the Aussie wasn’t a difficult back: he’s the best player on the planet at the moment by a country mile, with that red hot putter getting him out of trouble even on the rare occasions that his iron or tee shots go slightly awry. Compared to the other members of golf’s holy trinity – Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth – Day is light years ahead at the moment.
Ironically, McIlroy is these focus this week for the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, as the European Tour returns to continental soil for the first time since the Spanish Open a number of weeks ago. The event is hosted by McIlroy’s own charitable organisation, and his sheer presence has ensured a stellar cast of European talents will be hitting the course.
The tournament will be played out at a rather legendary venue, the K Club in County Kildare, which was the scene of perhaps Europe’s finest moment in the history of the Ryder Cup. They beat the US by full nine points to triumph back in 2006, and there a few in this field who will have fond memories of that. The K Club was also the former home of the European Open up until its cessation in 2007.
Whether it was the lure of McIlroy or the opportunity to play on UK soil just a week prior to the BMW PGA Championship, we have a stacked field here with players from both sides of the pond chancing their arm at glory on the Emerald Isle.
McIlroy himself will tee up in an event in which best finish is seventh; he missed the cut last year in a horrorshow of a performance. Not that he was the only one of course – former major winner Martin Kaymer, who is also competing this week, suffered his own meltdown on these shores 12 months ago.
The defending champion Soren Kjeldsen is here, as is back-to-back European Tour winner Jeunghun Wang looking to secure an unlikely hat-trick. And Danny Willett, fresh from winning The Masters, will be slipping off is green jacket as he tees it up for his first competition on home-ish soil since his famous major victory.
Add into the mix former champions here including Shane Lowry, Graeme McDowell and Lee Westwood, PGA Tour winner Russell Knox and the uber-consistent Joost Luiten and you have a fine tournament on your hands.
The K Club
This is a coastal Irish course, so similarities with Links-style courses such as St Andrews and Hoylake are hard to avoid, and yes wind and potentially rain given the forecast com be factors here.
It’s a long track that has enjoyed something of a tree-planting frenzy in the past decade; a number were planted immediately in the aftermath of the Ryder Cup, so shot placement – particularly off the tee – is likely to prove vital here.
The last winner here was Kenneth Ferrie in the European Open of 2005, and his winning score of -3 is indicative of the challenges facing the players this week. Players that are in form are more likely to prosper.
Ferrie’s stats from that success don’t really tell a story, other than distance off the tee is far outweighed in terms of importance by accuracy, and that hitting the dancefloor in a timely fashion – he ranked 1st for Greens in Regulation – is paramount.
Russell Knox (30/1)
But for a horrorshow at the notorious Sawgrass 17th hole, Knox would be returning to his Celtic roots with a second place at the Players Championship to his name. He slipped outside the top-10 after taking nine there on Saturday, but was good-natured about it in interviews afterwards and is clearly happy with his game at the moment.
And for good reason: the Scot has been in fine form this term, lifting the HSBS Championship title and finishing second at the OHL Classic and the RBC Heritage a fortnight ago.
A noted player of blustery conditions, Knox ranks 2nd on the PGA Tour for GIR and is currently sitting third in the FedEx Cup listings. You could happily argue he is head and shoulders above most in this field.
Graeme McDowell (33/1)
Having missed four cuts out of five on the PGA Tour, there would have been some concern about McDowell’s form heading into his home tournament. But he put those all to bed with a fantastic -8 at the Players Championship that secured him a ninth place finish.
Those recent mishaps cloud what has been a decent campaign for the veteran. He’s 14th in the FedEx Cup rankings, has a title to his name (the OHL Classic) and four other top-10 finishes.
A ten-time tour winner, McDowell has a number of quality efforts in the Irish Open to call upon, as well as a 13th on this course in 2005; which suggests his game measures up nicely here.
Andrew Johnston (100/1)
‘Beef’ was a popular maiden winner at the Spanish Open a few weeks ago, and the larger-than-life character had a good fortnight off to celebrate his victory.
But he’s back in the mix now, and a 31st at the Trophee Hassan event in Morocco may not sound like much but it was a good return for the Englishman. He will be much more comfortable in European conditions.