Rory McIlroy can kick-start season at Irish Open, says Rob Lee
Rory McIlroy, Paul Casey and Thomas Bjorn could be the men to watch at the Irish Open, says Rob Lee.
Last Updated: 26/06/13 11:59am
Carton House Golf Club is a newish venue and not one of the classic old places like Portmarnock or Portrush, but it is just outside Dublin in County Kildare and if the weather holds fair there will be plenty of support for the players, especially the home ones.
Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke, Shane Lowry, Michael Hoey and Peter Lawrie are among the players hoping to triumph on home soil, but the Irish guys haven't found it easy to win this tournament.
Harrington won the Irish Open in 2007 and Lowry took the title in 2009 whilst still an amateur, but you have to go all the way back to 1982 and John O'Leary for the last Irish victor before that and I think the local lads have probably tried too hard over the years.
However, it certainly wouldn't surprise me if there was an Irish winner this time, but I'm not sure Harrington is in good enough form, having shot an 80 in the final round of the Travelers Championship in Connecticut last week.
Lowry, though, has had some decent finishes, and McDowell looks in good shape after winning the Volvo World Match Play Championship in Bulgaria, but I have a sneaky feeling it could be Rory's time; he will begin a run at some point and where better to do it than in Ireland?
I believe Paul Casey could be a threat, too; he hasn't really kicked on since an eighth place in China earlier this year but he is a big-time player and when he is on, he is up there with his English rivals, Luke Donald, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood.
If you want to back a form player in Ireland, though, look no further than Thomas Bjorn; the Dane has finished second in his last two events, the Lyoness Open and the BMW International, and won the Irish Open in 2006 to boot.
Bjorn is playing brilliantly at the moment and I think that if everything clicks for him he is still capable of winning a Major - something he should have achieved at the 2003 Open Championship at Sandwich when he led by two shots with three holes to play.
The AT&T National is taking place across the pond, but it won't feature US Open champion Justin Rose, who has withdrawn from the event after a draining few weeks.
It was laudable that Justin played at the Travelers Championship - and finished in a tie for 13th place - following on from his triumph at Merion, but I think he has taken the prudent move as he prepares for next month's Open Championship at Muirfield.
Rose's absence means Adam Scott is the favourite at Congressional and while the Australian only finished in a tie for 45th at the US Open, I thought he swung the club quite well and I am going to tip him to win the National.
However, Rickie Fowler could also put in a strong showing; he is a little bit mercurial and has a lot of elements to his swing that can go wrong, but underneath the garish clothes and boy-band haircut is a proper golfer.
Fowler proved that at Royal St George's in 2011 when he braved some horrific weather to finish in a share of fifth place and, as a shot-maker, I think he will be licking his chops at the thought of teeing off at Muirfield.
ROB'S SKY BET TIPS
The Irish Open won't be easy to navigate; the course, which was designed by Colin Montgomerie, can get pretty testing if it gets windy and there some deep bunkers, too, so the players know they are in for a challenge, but it's one that Rory McIlroy should relish. At the AT&T National, meanwhile, I am going for Adam Scott, who has become such a well-rounded player.
Don't forget to check out Rob's weekly tips at Sky Bet.