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Matthew Southgate was our shining star last week in France as the 200/1 shot secured us a nice profit courtesy of a sparkling final round of 65 which elevated the Englishman into a tie for 5th place and rewarded each-way backers with the extended place terms on offer in France. With 2 doubles at the par-5 9th on his card, as well as a treble and a quadruple bogey recorded over the 4 days, it was certainly a case of what could have been though having finished just two shots off the lead when all the scores were totted up. A positive week nevertheless and we're looking to take that momentum into the second of three Rolex events as we head to Ireland's Ballyliffin Golf Club for this week's Irish Open.
Tournament host Rory McIlroy headlines the betting at around 7/1 with defending champion Jon Rahm hot on his heels at half a point longer in places, however if truth be told this is a rather disappointing field that's assembled this week. In recent years, McIlroy has managed to attract a number of star names from the PGA Tour to this event, however that's not the case here this year sadly. Perhaps Rory's lost a little bit of enthusiasm as from next year the event will adopt a similar 'guest host' format to that of the British Masters, with a number of players from both the Republic and Northern Ireland take their turn to play host. That said, we still have the likes of Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Matt Fitzpatrick, Andy Sullivan, Shane Lowry and Thorbjorn Olesen injecting some European Tour quality into the field behind the top two.
With the Open Championship now a little over a fortnight away, players who haven't already qualified for golf's oldest Major have another chance to secure their place in the field by finishing as one of the top 3 non-qualified players inside the eventual top 10 on the leaderboard. A huge incentive for many of this week's field of course and a chance for all to get their competitive juices flowing on a true links test on the Irish coast.
Over on the PGA Tour, Steve Bamford previews The Greenbrier - you can read his thoughts on that event here.
Paddy Power are attacking this week's Irish Open and The Greenbrier over on the PGA Tour and are offering a massive 8 places each-way at 1/5 odds on BOTH events. If you haven't already got a Paddy Power account then new customers can access a £/€20 risk-free bet which is refunded in CASH if it loses. 18+, T&Cs apply: Promo code YSKA01 required – use this qualifying link to claim.
Ballyliffin's Glashedy Links is a 7,462 yard, par 72 set on the Doneghal coastline and is a links course through and through. In a rather unconventional setup for a par-72, the course features just 3 par-3s and 3 par-5s, with a series of mid-length par-4s for the players to contend with. You can get a feel of the holes here on the Ballyliffin Golf Club website. Essentially this is a traditional style links track with undulating fairways, penal bunkering and rough as well as large greens. The course hosted the 2002 West Of Ireland Challenge on the European Tour in 2002 won by Adam Mednick at -7 with a 5-stroke margin - the final leaderboard is here. Only 5 players broke par that year, however conditions were particularly challenging and as always the difficulty of a links test is very much dictated by the elements.
Tournament Stats. We've published some key player statistics for this week's Irish Open that will help to shape a view on players who traditionally play well at this event, although as mentioned above please note that Ballyliffin is being used for the first time this week: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader Stats | Top 20 Finishes.
Predictor Model. Our published Predictor Model is available here. As always you can build your own model using the variables available.
Winners & Prices. 2017: Jon Rahm, 14/1; 2016: Rory McIlroy, 4/1; 2015: Soren Kjeldsen, 150/1; 2014: Mikko Ilonen, 80/1; 2013: Paul Casey, 50/1; 2012: Jamie Donaldson, 66/1; 2011: Simon Dyson, 25/1; 2010: Ross Fisher, 20/1. For a summary of winners' odds on the European Tour for the past 8 years click here.
Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for the area is here. Both the UK & Ireland have enjoyed a prolonged warm and dry spell of late which will have made the course firm up as you'd expect from a links layout. Thursday will see temperatures dip to the low 60s Fahrenheit before recovering into the 70s over the weekend, however it will remain dry throughout. Winds are expected to be light and variable, topping out at around 10mph, which will likely leave the course relatively defenceless.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors.
Looking at the last few Irish Opens gives us some idea of that kind of skill-sets that this week's test may demand:
A variety of different courses used may explain the disparity between stats in the results above and, depending on the course and conditions being played on any given year, either high GIR or a strong short game have been the winning formula in general.
Looking at the final stats of the top 3 at the 2002 Northwest of Ireland Open held here on the Glashedy Links suggests that performance from the second shot and in is of primary importance:
The complicating factor with the 2002 event was that high winds affected the event with play needing to be halted on a number of occasions as it was simply unplayable. With only 5 players eventually finishing the right side of par, we could infer that the course is a brute looking at the leaderboard without any context, however we're unlikely to see such challenging conditions here this week and scoring should be lower.
Incoming Form: There are positives to pick out of the recent form of our past 6 Irish Open champions and none arrived in what you'd class as poor form. All 6 had recorded a top-10 finish in their previous 7 outings and all had made the weekend on their previous start, albeit without really threatening the top of the leaderboard on the Sunday. A similar trend continues with Dyson (2011) and Fisher (2010), broken eventually by the shock win from Shane Lowry as an amateur in 2009:
Event Form (back to 2010): Despite the fact that the venue and style of course used for the Irish Open varies from year to year, it's interesting to note that prior to Jon Rahm's debut win last year, the previous 5 winners had all recorded at least one top-13 finish in the event prior to winning. Again the same can be said about Simon Dyson and Ross Fisher in their respective victories with the trend once again falling down with Shane Lowry's success at Baltray:
As ever with a new (or seldom used) course on the rota, we're going to have to take a leap of faith to a certain degree here this week. Some of the local players will be familiar with the course having played it on the junior circuit predominantly, however that's certainly the exception rather than the rule. For the Irish players, winning their national Open of course ranks as a huge achievement and that can inspire and intimidate players in equal measure when push comes to shove on Sunday.
Last week's wins for Alex Noren and Francesco Molinari both sides of the Atlantic will have caught the attention of all of Europe's potential Ryder Cup team and with enhanced points on offer again this week given the event's status, I'd expect us to see a similar focus from Thomas Bjorn's hopefuls who are in attendance here in Ireland. The Rolex Series events to date have gone to Alex Noren, Tommy Fleetwood, Jon Rahm, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Tyrrell Hatton, Justin Rose, Branden Grace, Jon Rahm (again), Franceso Molinari, Thorbjorn Olesen and most recently Alex Noren and that list of name sets the scene as to the potential type of winner we may see again this week.
Open Championship qualifying is another important side-plot here this week. Marcus Kinhult, Russell Knox and Julian Suri all secured their place at Carnoustie courtesy of their performances last week in France and another 3 players will find their way into the field this week with a top-10 finish.
For me, this will be an interesting warm-up for the Open Championship for those in attendance with a true links course being played in firm and fast conditions. Whilst the wind doesn't look like it's going to make this an overly challenging test here on the Irish coast, players will nevertheless need to be able to adjust their games for the conditions underfoot and those most comfortable on scoreable coastal/links courses may well gravitate to the top of the leaderboard over the four days.
My selections are as follows:
The two star names at the top of the betting are virtually inseparable with Rory McIlroy just about shading favouritism from Jon Rahm. A dream Sunday for the organisers would see the elite pair battling it out down the stretch and who's to say that won't become a reality as both men are entirely capable of running away with this title. With 8 places each-way on offer from some bookies this week, both men could be arguably an each-way shot to nothing this week if that's the way you choose to bet, however for me the value lies elsewhere and I'm not entirely convinced that either of them actually does win. Rory has hosting duties and a firm and fast course doesn't play to his strengths as length off the tee will be negated to a large degree this week; Rahm on the other hand has defending champion duties and he'll be disappointed that he didn't given Alex Noren's total more of a challenge on Sunday in France, despite playing some good golf.
Of the contenders below this formidable duo, Paul Dunne is the player I favour the most and I'm happy to stick with him again this week at a backable each-way price. After almost a month off from tournament golf, the Wicklow man threatened at times to make a move in France but in truth couldn't get the momentum required with the putter and eventually finished in a tie for 21st. A cold putter isn't something that's likely to persist though for a player of Dunne's prowess on the greens and a more scoreable track on home soil could be just the tonic this week as the 25 year-old seeks to win what he's described as his 'fifth Major'. A slightly less penal challenge from off the tee given the stats we saw from here in 2002 would suit a player like Paul down to the ground and with his scrambling working well last week - he ranked 2nd in the field for getting the ball up and down - he may well be in his element here.
With young, emerging players like Dunne we're continually learning about what makes them tick and perhaps in hindsight he prefers birdies to be far more readily available than they were in Paris for him to get the momentum required to contend. When he won the British Masters last year he produced 21 birdies and an eagle over the course of the four days to compile a 20-under score and whilst I'm not sure it will be quite that free-scoring, I suspect that over time as he accumulates more wins, they'll tend to be on more scoreable tests than grinding tracks. The fact that recovery shots can be seeming played from the rough here given the 2002 stats is encouraging for a player like Dunne and these pristine greens should suit a short game specialist like him.
There are a number of players who can feel disappointed not to have converted their chance in Paris last week. Julian Suri made an ugly double bogey on the 18th hole when in the lead, Jon Rahm found the water off the tee on that treacherous final hole when seeking the birdie that would have forced a play-off and Chris Wood bogeyed two of the final 4 holes as Alex Noren's 7-under total proved to be good enough to secure his 10th victory on the European Tour. It's interesting with Wood though as he's a resilient sort who tends to hold his form when his game is working well and by his own estimation he's still improving after an indifferent run of form. A cursory look at the Bristolian's record highlights a number of times where he's backed up a top-10 finish with another in quick succession and if he can take the positives out of a very challenging week and recover from the mental fatigue of his trials and tribulations in Paris, then another contending performance here isn't out of the question.
There was a time when I'd only really consider Wood for the tougher test on the European Tour circuit, however wins in Qatar at 18-under, Austria at 14-under and at Wentworth at 9-under show a diversity that shouldn't be ignored. Couple that with a strong Open Championship record which includes two top-5 finishes at golf's oldest Major and we have a player who's a strong fit for this week. Much of the 30 year-old's best work has come in the UK and Ireland - aside from his aforementioned efforts, he's also finished 15th, 7th, 9th and 4th on his last 4 Dunhill Links attempts, was 9th at the 2015 British Masters, has 2 further top-6 finishes at Wentworth to back up his 2016 victory and has 3 top-10 finishes in 7 starts at the Irish Open to his name over the years.
By his own estimation, Chris has been putting well for weeks now - a fact that's backed up statistically as he ranked 3rd for putting average at both the Oman Open (1.67 putts per GIR) and in Qatar (1.63) earlier in the year before producing similar numbers in Germany recently (1.64 - 3rd in the field) and last week in Paris (1.66 - 8th). Like Dunne, he can be a little wayward off the tee at times, so the fact that recovery shots are seemingly viable from the rough here - and the firm and fast conditions will mean that less club can be taken from off the tee - can only be a positive for this week.
Raphael Jacquelin 0.5pt EW 300/1 with £/€20 risk-free bet*** for new accounts, 18+, T&Cs apply (8 EW, 1/5 odds):
At longer prices, it would have been very easy to stick with Matthew Southgate after his performance last week in France. A combination of that effort and event form of 4/2 over the past 2 Irish Opens is difficult to ignore despite his more than halving in price week-on-week, however I have reservations myself. As suited as the Englishman is to this brand of golf, history has proven that he's generally struggled to back up a strong week with another big performance a matter of days later. I may live to regret that decision of course, however for me I'm completing my team with a pair of overpriced Frenchmen:
First up, Matthieu Pavon who surprised many with his performance at Shinnecock Hills last month. The Medoc resident was one of just two Frenchmen to qualify for the US Open, the other being Alex Levy, and he was the rank outsider of the pair in any 72-hole markets, yet the 25 year-old got off to a flying start as he sat 6th after the first day and 25th on the final leaderboard - firm and fast conditions seemed to suit him over in New York State and more of the same is expected this week in Ireland. In general Pavon's form has been poor - 6 missed cuts in his last 8 starts are testament to that - however any signs of life that we've seen have been noteworthy with 28th in Qatar - where he ranked 3rd for GIR on a course that often plays quite linksy - being the pick of the bunch. 13th at the Earth Course, where he topped the field for putting, in better overall company than this was encouraging on another firm track and 5th to follow that up on an exposed and almost linksy track in Mauritius is also another positive. 6th at the Nordean Masters last year on another course that partially flanks the seaside is a further tick in the box, however it was his 3rd place finish at last year's Scottish Open at Dundonald Links which ultimately gets him the nod here. At 250/1 he's undoubtedly a risky play, however fortune favours the brave and there are enough positive pointers for me to have a small investment here this week.
Finally I'll play an equally speculative punt on Pavon's compatriot Raphael Jacquelin. Always a player who I have in mind for coastal tests when he's shown some spark of form, at the price on offer he's worth a chance in my view. 3rd at the Shot Clock Masters less than a month ago was the Frenchman's best result on the European Tour for nearly 3 years and whilst he's backed that up with finishes of 66th (BMW International Open) and 37th (Open de France) since, there were more signs of decent form last week in Paris when he flirted with the first page of the leaderboard for a time on Saturday. The last time he put a positive performance together at Le Golf National was in 2015 and I backed him the week after for what was the Scottish Open at the time - he contended throughout at 250/1 and was eventually beaten by a classy finish from Rickie Fowler by a single stroke. Impressive stuff for an unfancied player and results including 8th at the Open in 2011, 3rd at the Dunhill Links in 2003, 2nd at the 2004 Irish Open (County Louth) and 2nd in Estoril in 2007 (Oitavos Dunes) highlights a player who's comfortable on this type of terrain. In fact 5 top-25 finishes from 11 starts in the Irish Open suggest he's more than comfortable in this part of the world and given the unknown quantities surrounding this event, should it play slightly tougher than expected then a player like Jacquelin could thrive.
Watch these tips on YouTube with Steve Bamford: Golf Betting System YouTube Channel
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