After a disappointing week at Valderrama with my remaining selections Andrew Johnston and Ashley Chesters making no impact over the weekend, we move on to the West coast of Ireland and the stunning Lahinch Golf Club for this year’s Irish Open.
With Rory McIlroy’s foundation no longer supporting the event and the man himself opting to play in Scotland as his Open Championship warm-up as opposed to this week, we’re presented with one of the weaker Irish Open fields of recent years. Clearly without Rory’s influence to attract the elite to Ireland, plus a contracted Majors season which has meant that schedules have had to be carefully mapped out and sacrifices made, the attendee list has suffered a little, however we still have former Irish Open champion and world no.11 Jon Rahm headlining as well as leading the bookmakers’ lists at around the 8/1 mark generally.
Perhaps I’m being a little unfair on the field quality as the likes of Tommy Fleetwood, Louis Oosthuizen, Matt Wallace, Shane Lowry, Ian Poulter, Eddie Pepperell, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Tyrrell Hatton, Haotong Li, Lucas Bjerregaard and Justin Harding are here to battle it out for the Rolex Series prize money and points, however the general lack of PGA Tour players is telling. That’s good news though for the remainder of the field and 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.
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Course Overview. Described as the ‘St Andrews of Ireland’, Lahinch promises to be a beautiful setting for this year’s Irish Open. Originally designed by Old Tom Morris in the 19th century and with subsequent tweaks from the likes of Charles Gibson, Alister Mackenzie and Martin Hawtree, the course now stretches to 7,036 yards for its par of 70 and is a links course through and through.
The 2nd and 4th holes, which play as par-5s for the members, will be long par-4s this week to stop the scoring getting out of control, however with a relatively short front 9 and two mid-length par-5s plus a driveable par-4 on the back 9, the course sets up for birdies in calm conditions for the professionals. You can get a feel for the course here on the Lahinch club website. Essentially this is a traditional style links track with undulating fairways, sand dunes, blind shots, penal bunkering and rough as well as large greens and, as always on this type of layout, the elements are the main defence.
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 please note that Lahinch is being used for this event for the first time this week: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader Stats | Top 20 Finishes | Combined Stats.
Predictor Model. Our published Predictor Model is available here. As always you can build your own model using the variables available.
Winners & Prices. 2018: Russell Knox, 28/1; 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 since 2010 click here.
Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for the area is here. Both the UK & Ireland have enjoyed a relatively warm and dry spell of late which will have made the course firm up as you’d expect from a links layout. Temperatures will peak in the low 60s Fahrenheit each afternoon with dry conditions and sunny spells. Winds will be generally light as high pressure builds over the British Isles and although there’ll undoubtedly be some breeze from the sea, it’s not forecast to be of the kind of strength that would offer significant defence to this track.
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:
- 2018: Russell Knox. 305 yards (18th), 53.3% fairways (19th), 77.8% greens in regulation (1st), 62.5% scrambling (18th), 1.73 putts per GIR (15th).
- 2017: Jon Rahm. 302 yards (8th), 51.8% fairways (36th), 81.9% greens in regulation (4th), 46.2% scrambling (56th), 1.61 putts per GIR (3rd).
- 2016: Rory McIlroy. 293 yards (9th), 60.7% fairways (23rd), 83.3% greens in regulation (1st), 58.3% scrambling (21st), 1.87 putts per GIR (52nd).
- 2015: Soren Kjeldsen. 280 yards (28th), 67.9% fairways (5th), 62.5% greens in regulation (18th), 66.7% scrambling (5th), 1.82 putts per GIR (19th).
- 2014: Mikko Ilonen. 291 yards (31st), 51.9% fairways (31st), 73.6% greens in regulation (27th), 78.9% scrambling (1st), 1.66 putts per GIR (6th).
- 2013: Paul Casey. 287 yards (18th), 44.6% fairways (41st), 73.6% greens in regulation (10th), 68.4% scrambling (10th), 1.68 putts per GIR (4th).
- 2012: Jamie Donaldson. 289 yards (8th), 58.9% fairways (35th), 62.5% greens in regulation (64th), 63.0% scrambling (5th), 1.51 putts per GIR (1st).
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.
The past 3 Irish Opens have been won with GIR ranks of 1st, 4th and 1st and winning scores of -14 (Knox), Rahm (-24) and McIlroy (-12), and unless conditions seriously deteriorate in these types of events, maximising greens hit is never a bad strategy. In tougher years the emphasis switches towards scrambling and par-saving putts, however with a relatively placid forecast I’d expect Lahinch to offer up birdies to those who can find greens in the requisite number and of course convert enough putts.
Incoming Form: There are positives to pick out of the recent form of our past 7 Irish Open champions and none arrived in what you’d class as poor form. All 7 had recorded a top-10 finish in their previous 7 outings and all had made the weekend on their previous start, the most lofty finish of which was from last year’s winner Russell Knox who’d finished 2nd at Le Golf National courtesy of a flying final round of 65. A similar trend continues with Dyson (2011) and Fisher (2010), broken eventually by the shock win from Shane Lowry as an amateur in 2009:
- 2018, Russell Knox: MC/MC/16/20/44/12/38/2
- 2017, Jon Rahm: 10/27/4/72/2/MC/MC/10
- 2016, Rory McIlroy: 20/MC/3/27/4/10/4/12
- 2015, Soren Kjeldsen: MC/45/MC/14/MC/31/9/18
- 2014, Mikko Ilonen: 5/33/37/MC/8/MC/38/32
- 2013, Paul Casey: MC/16/MC/8/MC/51/45/53
- 2012, Jamie Donaldson: 51/3/63/44/15/53/WD/22
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 in 2017, 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, however Russell Knox bolstered the stat having finished 2nd on debut in 2016:
- 2018, Russell Knox: 2
- 2017, Jon Rahm: Debut
- 2016, Rory McIlroy: MC/7/50/35/34/10/MC/MC/M
- 2015, Soren Kjeldsen: MC/33/MC/35/6/64/MC/45/35/30/MC/18/MC
- 2014, Mikko Ilonen: 49/MC/WD/16/MC/MC/10/32
- 2013, Paul Casey: MC/13/2
- 2012, Jamie Donaldson: MC/MC/MC/MC/MC/13/21/45
As ever with a new 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 as will some of those who spent their amateur years in the UK and Ireland, 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.
Open Championship qualifying is another important side-plot here this week. Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Adri Arnaus and Mike Lorenzo-Vera all secured their place at Royal Portrush courtesy of their performances last week in Spain and another 3 players will find their way into the field this week with a top-10 finish. In addition, a small number of this week’s field will also be attempting to qualify for The Open through Final Qualifying – notables include Julian Suri, Sam Horsfield, Matthew Southgate and Andrew Johnston.
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 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: