Author: Paul Atkin
Published: 08:32 17/06/2014
With major winners such as Rory Mcillroy, Graeme McDowell, Darren Clarke and Padraig Harrington in attendance this week, the enthusiastic Irish crowds will be out in force for the 2014 Irish Open, which returns to the Fota Island Resort, in County Cork. This venue was last used to host this prestigous event in 2002 (also hosted the event in 2001), since which time the 7.043yd Par 71 Deerpark Course has undergone extensive change, including the addition of five new tees, one of which is on the spectacular 6th hole. The course should provide a fair challenge with its strategic bunkering and well placed water hazards, most notably on the risk and reward Par 5 18th hole, where the green is surrounded on three sides by water. The track is not particularly long by modern standards, and the two previous course winners here, Colin Montgomerie (2001) and Soren Hansen (2002) indicate accuracy and solid iron play will be the key elements required this week. The weather is set fair, with sunshine and only light winds forecast for the four days.
With very little previous course form for much of the field, this week will provide a difficult punting test, with post Pinehurst fatigue also a consideration for those at the top end of the market. Pinehurst No 2 provided a brutal, and in some cases an unfair test last week, so mental strength will certainly be a major factor.
The market is quite rightly headed by Rory Mcillroy, who never really got to grips with the extreme Pinehurst layout last week. He certainly played better than he scored, but after such a mentally grueling examination, I would not be rushing to back him at such prohibitive odds, on a course he has little experience on.
My main fancy is Shane Lowry, who won this event as an Amateur in 2009, much to the delight of runner up Robert Rock who pocketed the half million Euro first prize! After a slow start to the season, the likeable Irishman really found his form with a 2nd place finish in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, and continued this rich vein of form by winning the US Open Qualifying at Walton Heath. Although he missed the cut last week by a single shot, this may prove a blessing in disguise, as it will give him some additional time to prepare for this important week in his schedule. He has played a few practice rounds here recently, and is certainly waxing lyrical about the course, so expect a bold showing in his quest to make it win number three on the European Tour.
I also like the chance of defending champion Paul Casey, who despite finishing only Tied 56th at Pinehurst, again showed real signs he is starting to recapture his best form, which has previously netted him twelve European Tour victories. He has played predominantly on the PGA Tour this season, and in eleven starts has finished in the top 20 on five occasions, which is a clear sign his well documented injury and off course problems are behind him. He also has competitive experience at this track having finished Tied 13th in the 2002 renewal, and this weeks more conventional challenge should be well suited to the cocky Englishman.
At a bigger price I have a sneaking fancy for the often underestimated South African Darren Fichardt, who is having a cracking season, and currently lies in 34th place in the Race To Dubai. He is in good form, having posted a Tied 7th place finish in the Open De Espana and a Tied 15th in the Nordea Masters in his last three starts, and is another with positive course experience having finished runner up here in 2002. He is a tidy player, who can be a lethal putter, so at juicy odds, a few quid each way is recommended.
Of the other notables G-Mac seems to be struggling to find his game, Harrington is showing only sporadic signs of a return to form, and Matthew Fitzpatrick makes his eagerly anticipated professional debut. He may look twelve, but what a swing/what an unbelievable talent!.