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Paul Williams' tips for the 2011 Irish Open
The Emerald Isle is our next stop on the European Tour rollercoaster and the picturesque Killeen Course at the Killarney Golf & Fishing Club, County Kerry. The course runs alongside Lough Leane (the ‘lake of learning’) and as many of the players only saw the course for the first time last year, that name is very appropriate!
Before we kick off with the tips, it's worth noting that Paddy Power, Boylesports and Bet365 have all gone 6 places each way on this event - everyone else is still at 5 places at the last count. To check out the current prices at these bookies click here: Paddy Power - Boylesports - Bet365
Irish golf is leading the World at present and, despite a reduced purse this week, all of Ireland's current golfing heroes will be in attendance this week: newly-crowned Open Champion Darren Clarke, US Open Champion Rory McIlroy, plus former Major champions Graeme McDowell and Padraig Harrington. On top of that we have 2009 Irish Open winner Shane Lowry, Peter Lawrie, Paul McGinley, Damien Mcgrane plus a whole host of Irish qualifiers and amateurs to keep the locals in good voice this week in what will no doubt be a massive celebration of Irish golf with countless pints of Guinness being poured over the 4 days.
Last year saw an Englishman spoil the party as Ross Fisher held off Padraig Harrington by 2 shots to win with an 18-under total, largely due to a second-round 61 in which he flirted with a 59 for the first 14 holes. Fisher excelled by a combination of long driving (308 off the tee for the week) and excellent ironplay which saw him miss an average of just 3 greens per round. For me that's the key to unlocking this course and winning the trophy this week - the greens will produce birdies to those that can find them regularly and you can't afford to be scrambling for par around here as you'll soon get left behind on the leaderboard.
The course is a cracker and at a little over 7,100 yards certainly not long, generally favouring a right-handed fade on most holes. Water is in play on 11 of the 18 holes and there’s plenty of trees to punish a severely wayward drive, however the rough is pretty generous and, without much wind, the course will reap a low score – somewhere in the region of -20 I’d suggest. USGA-style undulating greens running at 10.5 will suit those who excellent on bentgrass-based surfaces and scoring will be critical this week – plodders will not make an impact here.
My selections for this week are as follows:
Last year's winnner gets my top selection this week and appeals far more than the Irish quartet who flank him at the top of the bookies' lists. Of the home-grown talent, I'd be surprised if the new Open Champion makes an impression following days of partying, interviews, partying and more partying; GMac and Harrington haven't been quite at their best in recent times and give me cause for doubt; McIlroy is far too short at around 5/1 for a serious punt although his chance is clear if he's on his game - if you must back McIlroy then check out our No Lose Bets and back him to win only would be my advice.
With the weather set fair and only a gentle breeze off of the Loch likely, this week will be a very different challenge to that of the last few events on the European Tour and I'd expect a different set of names to recent weeks at the top of the leaderboard on Sunday. Last year's winning score of 18-under by Fisher has every chance of being beaten in my view, so finding players capable of scoring in that kind of magnitude is essential.
Fisher arrived in Ireland last year on the back of 3 top 10s in the season and steadily improving form; this year is similar in that he's also had 3 top 10s and his 9th place finish in Munich at the end of June showed a positive upturn in both putting and approach play performance for his 12-under total. Since then he sauntered around Castle Stuart for a 9-under total in 3 days before missing the cut by a shot at Sandwich. Having avoided the tough weekend in Kent plus last week's nightmarish Sunday in Stockholm, Fisher will be fully rested and ready to defend his title this week at a couple of points longer than his SP last year. RESULT: T17
Low-scoring events are just what the doctor ordered for the talented Dutchman who still remain a maiden on the European Tour. Challenge Tour victories with finishes of -17, -18 and -22 prove that Luiten can make plenty of birdies when the course suits his aggressive style of play, as do scores of -16 (China), -18 (Italy) and -14 (Munich) since the end of April as he's gone in search of his first European Tour win.
The 25 year old has struggled recently with tougher conditions in France and the links of Scotland and Kent, however I'm predicting a bounce back to form this week for Joost at an attractive price. Quality ironplay is Luiten's biggest asset and he sits inside the top 15 for Greens In Regulation this season, hitting over 74% from his 44 rounds - this will suit perfectly this week and I'm expecting him to improve on his top 10 here last year in more favourable conditions for his style of play. RESULT: T59
Englishman Boyd celebrated his qualification for The Open with a creditable top 40 finish a fortnight ago, however it was his 2nd place finish in Italy with a 20-under score which encourages me the most here after what had been a pretty miserable start to 2011 for the man from Banbury. Without a top 20 all year, his Italian effort came pretty much out of the blue - however Boyd is another who prefers low-scoring events than grinding out pars and this will be right up his alley.
Boyd proved last season that he can sustain top form for a number of weeks once he reaches a peak - consecutive top 10s in October at St Andrews, Vilamoura and Costa Azahar with a combined score of -37 came hot on the heels of a runners-up position at the Czech Open which remains his joint-best finish on Tour along with his recent Italian effort. Having been spared the exertions of a soul-destroying weekend in Stockholm, Boyd will come to this fresh as a daisy and will go very close if he can repeat his ironplay from Italy this week which was impeccable. RESULT: T25
Scot Gallacher amazingly still has just 1 victory to his name - a 19-under total at St Andrews back in 2004 - despite the numerous times he got himself into a winning position last season. This season has been largely forgettable though with the exception of a top 4 (18-under) in Bahrain back in January and a top 10 in Dubai; as such his price has drifted steadily to what is now a backable 3-figures. Playing all 4 days in Kent will have boosted his morale somewhat and I think a return to easier scoring will suit him fine on a course where his 300 yard drives and high GIR performance will be rewarded.
Gallacher tends to perform best when he's closer to home - as well as his sole win in his homeland, all of his top 4 finishes last season came on UK shores so pushing that theory to Ireland is no great stretch. Further top 10s in Scotland in 2008, plus a second place finish at the Belfry in 2006 add further fuel to the fire in recent times - go back further and you'll see this trend repeat itself over and over.RESULT: 3rd
Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 19:45BST 26.7.11 but naturally subject to fluctuation.
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