Irish Open Preview, Picks & Analysis
With just a couple of weeks to go until The Open Championship, it is no surprise that a star-studded cast heads to Lahinch Golf Club for the Irish Open. There is, of course, one notable absentee in Rory McIlroy but that should in no way detract from what promises to be a hugely prestigious and successful event.
Matt Wallace, who leads the Race to Dubai, is joined by the likes of Jon Rahm, who won the event two years ago, Tyrrell Hatton, Eddie Pepperell, Tommy Fleetwood, Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood, Danny Willett and Martin Kaymer. And there will be even greater interest than normal with all of these players heading back to Northern Ireland for The Open in a couple of weeks. Irish fans love their golf and there are only a few tickets left for the final two days of the Irish Open.
Wallace goes from strength to strength. He almost made a successful defence of his BMW International Open title and has performed superbly in the season’s three majors to date, but the Englishman is desperate to add to his four European Tour titles, and where and when better to do it than against one of the strongest fields assembled in Europe so far this season?
It is a tournament with a rich and varied history. It was won in 2011 by Simon Dyson, in 2012 by Jamie Donaldson, in 2013 by Paul Casey, in 2014 by Mikko Ilonen, in 2015 by Soren Kjeldsen, in 2016 by Rory McIlroy, in 2017 by Jon Rahm and last year by Scotland’s Russell Knox as he made a last-gasp effort to qualify for Europe’s Ryder Cup team. The 2018 Irish Open provided one of the most dramatic finales in the tournament’s history, as Knox holed a 40-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole to clinch a place in a playoff alongside New Zealander Ryan Fox. The Scot then sank an almost identical putt on the first play-off hole to seal his maiden Rolex Series title. With blazing sunshine and a star-studded field, a total of 94,239 people attended the event at Ballyliffin Golf Club.
Much has been made of McIlroy’s decision not to play but those who have criticised him should remember that, through his foundation, he has been a terrific supporter of his national open. Not only has he won it, but he has helped to raised tens of thousands of pounds for charity as a result. And he is going to be under massive pressure to perform when he tees it up at Royal Portrush. So let’s give the guy a break. All will be forgiven if he does manage to win The Open for a second time.
If Wallace is keen to win again, the same has to be said for Spain’s Rafa Cabrera Bello. He has enjoyed some strong results on Irish soil and this year’s event, the second Rolex Series tournament of the 2019 Race to Dubai, will be his 11th consecutive appearance at the historic national open.His best performance at the Irish Open came seven years ago at Royal Portrush – the venue for this year’s Open Championship – when the 35 year old birdied three of the final four holes to make a late charge for victory but finished in a share of second behind winner Jamie Donaldson.
The Dubai-based player has since enjoyed some of the best form of his career, making his Ryder Cup debut at Hazeltine in 2016 before claiming his biggest European Tour victory at the 2017 Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open.
“I have always enjoyed the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and playing in front of the Irish crowds so I am really looking forward to going back,” said Cabrera Bello. “I love playing links golf courses and I have heard Lahinch is a true test of golf and with Paul McGinley as host, I am sure it is going to be great week. I have also heard it is a big surfing town so I’m hoping to get out and catch a few waves during the week!” The weather may well have something to say about that.
Cabrera Bello is one of the most popular players on tour and splits his time between Europe and the United States. He is one of the most consistent performers in world golf but he would be the first to admit that he should have more than three European Tour titles he has thus far amassed. Encouragingly, he finished third at the BMW so he is in form.
There may be no McIlroy, but the local fans have plenty to get excited about. Incredibly, it is 10 years since Shane Lowry won this tournament as an amateur and although his professional career has seen many peaks and troughs he is riding high in the Race to Dubai this season and has won again. And whisper it, but former US Open champion Graeme McDowell is showing signs of life again. Not only has he qualified for The Open at his home course, but he also played some wonderful golf at the US Open at Pebble Beach. He is finally climbing the world rankings again and is once again beginning to look like the world-class golfer we all know him to be. There would be no more popular winner than McDowell.
Also in the field are three-time major champion Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke, Paul Dunne and Seamus Power, returning to Irish shores after a six-year absence.
Former Open champion Louis Oosthuizen could be one to watch, and Kaymer continues his resurgence. The German has struggled to string four good rounds together but there are definitely signs that he is very nearly back to his best. There is a sense among his fellow players that if he can only find a way to finish the job off then it could be the trigger it needs to see him contending in majors once again. And don’t forget that he is two-time major champion, is a former world number one and knows what it’s like to hole the putt that wins the Ryder Cup. You can be certain that Ryder Cup captain Harrington would love to have an in-form Kaymer in his side in America next year.
Tournament host Paul McGinley has promised a festival atmosphere like no other for the 2019 edition, with Sharon Shannon and Hermitage Green among the acts set to light-up the Lahinch Live Stage in the Championship Village and the popular tourist village of Lahinch.
A two-day wellness event has been introduced for the first time this year, headlined by Instagram influencer, doctor and author Dr Hazel Wallace, known as The Food Medic, and BEO Bites – a regular event hosted by Clare residents Aoibhín Garrihy and Sharon Connellan. European Tour and Ryder Cup performance nutritionist David Dunne, brother of Paul, will also take part in a Q&A with The Food Medic as they discuss nutrition and fitness in golf.
Rafa Cabrera Bello. Ready to win again
Graeme McDowell. Showing signs of his best once more
Paul Dunne. Will be inspired by home fans
Rafa Cabrera Bello. As consistent as they come
Graeme McDowell. Been in wilderness too long
Paul Dunne. Needs to get in the mix more
Shane Lowry. Enjoying a great year
Louis Oosthuizen. Class act
Martin Kaymer. Showing signs of life
Jon Rahm. Impossible to ignore
Matt Wallace. World-class act now
Tommy Fleetwood. Could do with a win soon
Tyrrell Hatton. Needs to arrest slide down the rankings
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