Irish Open: A preview and best bets for this week's European Tour event at Fota Island
Last Updated: 19/06/14 7:53am
Fota Island is a 7,043-yard par 71 in Cork
Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell return from the US Open at Pinehurst to headline this week's Irish Open at Fota Island Resort.
This is the first time the Cork venue has hosted the event since 2002 when Dane Soren Hansen took the title in a play-off. That followed on from Colin Montgomerie's five-shot win in 2001.
There are plenty in the field who played in those events and in the build-up to the event McDowell recalled: "Fota Island was my Irish Open debut and it’s got good memories, good thoughts, a great venue.
“The Irish Open is always special to us as Irish players."
McIlroy, though, has no experience of the venue and admits: “I don’t know Fota at all and I’ve never been to Cork, unbelievably. It’s going to be good. Irish Opens are always great events - they are always so well supported and so well attended, so I’m looking forward to it.
“I’ve heard great things about the course, so I’m really looking forward to getting down there and seeing it for myself. I vaguely remember watching the Irish Open on TV when it was there in 2002. It’s a parkland golf course, which will be nice after last week at Pinehurst, where I made only nine birdies in four rounds."
Former world No 1 McIlroy was tied 23rd at Pinehurst while his Irish Open record is mixed to say the least. He's played in the event seven times and his results from 2008 read: 7-50-35-34-10-MC.
Rory McIlroy: Hasn't seen the course before
McDowell was a decent 27th back in 2002 when he carded a third round 65 - his second best round in the event.
However, his 12 appearances show five missed cuts, a WD and nothing better than an 11th in 2004.
Shane Lowry has done much of the pre-event publicity and, of course, as well as being from south of the border he's also a former Irish Open winner after scoring an amazing victory as an amateur at County Louth in 2009.
Lowry was also fifth at Carton House last year so tends to thrive in this event.
Other big names in the event taking part include defending champion Paul Casey (also 13th at Fota Island in 2002), Victor Dubuisson, Stephen Gallacher, Padraig Harrington and Ross Fisher.
Harrington has a strong record in his home Open. He won at Adare Manor in 2007 and is also a three-time runner-up, the most recent coming at Killarney in 2010.
One other big attraction is English youngster Matt Fitzpatrick, who will be making his pro debut just days after winning low amateur in the US Open at Pinehurst.
Fota Island is a 7,043-yard par 71. It has back-to-back par fives on the front nine at 4 and 5 and two more on the back, at 10 and 18. The final hole is just 532 yards which sets up the possibility of an eagle finish. Soren Hansen shot 14-under when he won at the fourth extra hole in his 2001 play-off against Richard Bland, Niclas Fasth and Darren Fichardt while Monty carded 18-under (63-69-68-66) to win in 2001.
The last seven Irish Opens have all been won by GB & Ireland players. They were Paul Casey (2013), Jamie Donaldson (2012), Simon Dyson (2011), Ross Fisher (2010), Shane Lowry (2009), Richard Finch (2008), Padraig Harrington (2007).
Given the great record of the home players, it's worth checking closely the GB & Ireland players.
McIlroy doesn't appeal at 5/1 and neither does McDowell given his curiously average record in the event.
But Shane Lowry does look worth investing in given that his record is far superior to his illustrious fellow Irishmen.
Unlike McIlroy he knows the course well too. When promoting the event last month he said: "The golf course is a fair, tough test. If you play well, there’s a low score out there but there’s a lot of trouble on the tight holes too."
Shane Lowry: Loves this event
Although he missed the cut at the US Open, his form before that was excellent and only McIlroy's brilliance on the final day at Wentworth denied him victory in the BMW PGA Championship.
He said on Twitter: "Absolutely buzzing for The Irish Open at Fota Island Resort this week. Forecast is great so should be a great week."
Expect Lowry to get in the mix so back him each-way at 28/1.
Richie Ramsay should enjoy this course and the Scot is worth a play at 66s.
The former US Amateur champ has a ninth and a 16th in two of his last three Irish Open appearances and in his last seven starts in Europe he's produced a runners-up finish and a fifth.
It's about time this class act won again (his last victory came in Switzerland two years ago) and this could be his week.
At the same price, Tommy Fleetwood could also show up strongly.
On the face of it, he looks one to be avoided having missed his last three cuts but his last competitive round was a 70 in the Nordea Masters so there's not too much wrong.
Before that run he'd had an eighth and a second and they also came on the back of a missed cut.
Basically, Fleetwood is still a young player who can blow hot and cold so we shouldn't get too down on a few poor results as he really does look a player of top calibre.
If there is to be an overseas winner, then Marcel Siem must enter calculations.
Anyone watching Sky's coverage of the US Open would have seen Siem on the final green hugging German compatriot Martin Kaymer and it's likely he'll feel particularly inspired this week.
Siem had reason to be delighted with his own performance having finished tied 12th - easily his best performance in the eight majors he's contested.
The final element is that Siem played at Fota Island in 2002 and although he missed the cut he has very happy memories. “I played there in 2002, which was my first year on Tour, and fell in love with it," he said.
The 33-year-old, who won on the European Tour in 2012 and 2013, was the halfway leader in this event in 2011 (opened 66-66) before fading on Sunday and also second after 36 holes in 2008 while he's been in the top four after round one three times in the last five years.
With a 12th at Pinehurst and a 7th at Wentworth in his last two starts, he appeals at 40/1.
2pts e.w. Shane Lowry at 28/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)
1pt e.w. Richie Ramsay at 66/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)
1pt e.w. Tommy Fleetwood at 66/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)
1pt e.w. Marcel Siem at 40/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)
Watch the Irish Open live on Sky Sports 4 with coverage from 10am on Thursday.