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British Open Tuneup Events Start In Ireland

By Wes Reynolds  () 

At last, the European Tour hits the U.K. in the buildup to the British Open with the Irish Open at the Lahinch Golf Club along Ireland’s west coast. In past years, Rory McIlroy, along with his foundation, has supported this event, but the foundation ceased operations last December and Rory will be using next week’s Scottish Open as his tuneup for the British. Nonetheless, we have a solid field for this event headlined by Jon Rahm, who won at Portstewart in the 2017 event, at 8/1. Rahm finished in a six-way tie for second last week at Valderrama behind eventual winner South African Christiaan Bezuidenhout, a six-shot winner as an 80/1 shot.

Tommy Fleetwood follows as the second choice at 12/1. Rounding out the top-5 favorites are Matt Wallace and Shane Lowry, both at 16/1, and Louis Oosthuizen at 18/1. Russell Knox, who won the event in a playoff last year at Ballyliffin over Ryan Fox, is currently slotted at 30/1.

THE COURSE

Lahinch Golf Club is along the Atlantic coast of Ireland in Munster and is approximately a three-hour drive east from Dublin. This week the players will play the Old Course that was originally designed in 1892 by Old Tom Morris, four-time Open Champion in 1861, 1862, 1864 and 1867. Alister MacKenzie, the co-designer of Augusta National, re-designed it in 1927 and then Martin Hawtree, who designed previous hosts of this event, including Portmarnock and Ballybunion, restored the Old Course in 1999. Lahinch has been described as the “St. Andrews of Ireland” and will play as a 7,036-yard, par 70 true links course. The 2nd and 4th holes play as Par 5s for the members, but will play as longer Par 4s this week. By and large this will be traditional Irish links with wide and undulating fairways, sand dunes, blind shots, knee-high rough and tough bunkering. The greens are large but have some challenging run-offs. As is typical for a links course, the weather is often the primary defense. Early forecasts predict the breeze to be relatively benign. Recent dry weather has firmed up the course and temperatures this week should be in the low 60s.

RECENT HISTORY/WINNERS

2018: Russell Knox (-14/274) 28/1 (Ballyliffin)

2017: Jon Rahm (-24/264) 14/1 (Portstewart)

2016: Rory McIlroy (-12/276) 4/1 (The K Club)

2015: Søren Kjeldsen (-2/282) 150/1 (Royal County Down)

2014: Mikko Ilonen (-13/271) 80/1 (Fota Island)

2013: Paul Casey (-14/274) 50/1 (Carton House)

2012: Jamie Donaldson (-18/270) 66/1 (Royal Portrush)

2011: Simon Dyson (-15/269) 25/1 (Killarney)

2010: Ross Fisher (-18/266) 20/1 (Killarney)

PICKS

Danny Willett 25/1

To use a horse racing analogy, this could be a drop in class for Willett, who has been playing against deeper fields on the PGA Tour for the bulk of the season. He comes in here with two solid finishes of 12th and 8th respectively at the RBC Canadian Open and U.S. Open. His ball-striking has been solid, especially with wedges and shorter irons, and he’s currently No. 1 on the PGA Tour on his approach shots from 150-175 yards. The Englishman has four Top 10s in six starts at the Irish Open. In spite of no wins on links as a professional, he has links pedigree, winning the 2007 English Amateur at Royal St. George’s and the 2008 Australian Amateur stroke play at Royal Adelaide, another Alister MacKenzie design just like Lahinch and Augusta National (2016 Masters champion).

Tyrrell Hatton 25/1

Hatton has also been playing more in America and may relish playing against a weaker field in terms of depth. He just might be peaking at the right time. While he was only 21st in his last start in the U.S. Open, he shot 138 (4-under) on the weekend at Pebble Beach and was only bettered in the field by one player on Saturday/Sunday, world No. 1 Brooks Koepka (-6/136). He has two top 10s in the last six majors (2018 U.S. Open & 2018 PGA). Just over a week ago, he signed a deal for new management and representation with Modest! Golf, a new agency co-owned by One Direction singer and avid golfer Niall Horan. A thing like this can put a player in a positive frame of mind with a fresh and new start.

Rafael Cabrera-Bello 25/1

RCB returned to the European Tour with his best finish of the year, a T3, at the BMW International Open two weeks ago in Germany. That finish should give him a lot of confidence coming in and he elected not to play last week at Valderrama in his home country of Spain. That could be a tell that he’s really targeting this upcoming links swing including next week’s Scottish Open that he won in 2017. He’s had Irish Open success before with a runner-up finish in 2012 at Royal Portrush, this year’s host for the Open Championship in two weeks, and has three Top 10s in the event since 2010.

Lucas Bjerregaard 60/1

Since he made a name for himself knocking out Tiger Woods and eventually finishing 4th at the Dell Match Play, he has missed five of seven cuts but did make the cut at both the Masters (21) and the PGA (16). While he doesn’t come in on the best of form, he should be happy to return to links golf where he last won the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship last October.

Matthew Southgate 125/1

A true links specialist, he’s still trying to earn a spot in the British. This event is as good a spot as any to earn it as he has notched three Top 10 finishes at the Irish Open, including a runner up in 2017 to Rahm at Portstewart. Southgate has finished 12th and 6th at two of the past three Open Championships, so the links pedigree at a price is worth a shot.

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