2pts each-way Shane Lowry @ 12/1
1.5pts each-way Christiaan Bezuidenhout @ 16/1
1pt each-way Sam Horsfield @ 20/1
1pt each-way Victor Dubuisson @ 66/1
0.5pts each-way Padraig Harrington @ 80/1
Will it be “Rory, Rory, Hallelujah” after the Irish Open or will the Emerald Isle’s favourite golfing son let his legion of fans down as he did on his last playing visit when missing the cut in the 2019 Open Championship at Royal Portrush?
We shall find out this week at Mount Juliet in Kilkenny on his first appearance in his national Open since finishing 28th at Ballyliffin in 2018. It is a tournament he has won once, at the K Club five years ago, but by and large it has not been a happy hunting ground for the Holywood superstar.
He failed to make the weekend in four of his last six attempts yet Fitzdares have him a hot favourite at 9/2 in a field of 156, short enough for a guy with such a spotty record, never mind his up-and-down performances in the States this year.
Yes, he won at Quail Hollow on the course where he opened his PGA Tour account back in 2010. Yes, improvement in concentration was noted in his seventh place last time out at the US Open. But no to much of the rest of his year, missed cuts in the Masters and Players and an out-with-the-washing performance at the US PGA.
He’s a flawed genius and, at 32, still a work in progress. He may well run away with it because not many of his opponents have realistic chances but one never really know these days which Rory will turn up.
The presence of partisan spectators, even though numbers are being limited, will be a boon as having a noisy fan club there brings out the showman in him but I’ll take him on with Shane Lowry whose recent Stateside form is significantly superior to what he was producing last year and at the start of 2021.
Sharing fourth place with his last-round playing partner Padraig Harrington at the US PGA was first-rate as was sixth at Memorial in company with far greater strength-in-depth than here.
With only a couple of weeks left of his extended two-year reign as Open champion, victory would come as a timely boost for Royal St George’s as he has not won since beating the world at Portrush two summers ago.
He’s a past Irish Open champion although it was a bitter-sweet triumph in 2009 as he was a 300/1 amateur unable to take the £446,000 first prize. That went to his County Louth play-off victim Robert Rock, lucky chap.
I won’t be backing Tommy Fleetwood whose year has had few highlights. He should be bigger than his 12/1 quote, nor will Martin Kaymer be carrying my money even after his best finish in a long time, second at the weekend on home ground in Munich.
Shooting a stellar final round after starting the day eight back failed to convince me that the German can handle the pressure of being in contention. Indeed, past results indicate the opposite.
Of more interest are quiet South African Christiaan Bezuidenhout, a triple winner last year who is making a good fist of a prolonged stay in America, and laid-back Brit Sam Horsfield, a dual winner last year and closing in on his first 2021 victory.
Horsfield hunts the flags with his hot iron play and makes birdies for fun. But he needs to cut out the odd double-bogey disaster or the one substandard round each week to realise his full potential. He is an exciting prospect with the best yet to come.
I’ll also risk a tiny bet on Ryder Cup captain Harrington, who ended a 25-year wait for a home winner in 2007 – the late John O’Leary was the previous one at Portmarnock in 1982.
Pod played a blinder for fourth alongside Lowry at Kiawah in last month’s US PGA and at 49 must be encouraged by the age-defying feats of the even-older Phil Mickelson. Pity he’s missed two cuts since but for 80/1 you don’t get perfection.
Former Ryder Cup star Victor Dubuisson is another outsider who could provide a shock. The Frenchman’s fourth in Munich was easily his best effort of the year.
Course form is so old it is of little value although Harrington’s sixth place to Ernie Els in the 2004 WGC American Express Championship, the last big event to be staged at Mount Juliet, is worth taking on board.
It’s going to be a showery four days – it’s Ireland so what do you expect? – but not too much wind so scoring should be low although nowhere near Tiger Woods’ 25-under at the 2002 AmEx. He was in his prime then and tore Nicklaus’s parkland layout apart.
Only two members of the world’s top ten, Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed, are bothering with the Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit and they dominate the betting along with Masters hero Hideki Matsuyama.
As defending champion, 7/1 favourite DeChambeau was pretty well obliged to be in Motor City, having produced three closing birdies in a row to keep Matt Wolff at bay in one of the early tournaments back last summer after the first lockdown was eased.
That was the week we got a look at “the mad scientist” after he’d bulked up 40lb during lockdown, at the same time adding 30-40 yards to his already-long drives.
The Rocket Mortgage, formerly the Quicken Loans, was the sixth PGA Tour win in the career of the most eccentric pro in golf and he’s won two more since, one of which was his first Major, the delayed US Open in September.
It wasn’t so much that he won, it was the way he took hallowed Winged Foot apart. The brutal style of that six-shot victory had punters rushing to back him for everything bar the Boat Race but his unique methods haven’t always worked.
There were embarrassments such as shooting 77s in the final rounds of the two most recent Majors following big numbers on the weekend in the Masters.
He will always have his detractors – don’t even mention his name when Brooks Koepka’s around – but Lee Westwood, for one, sees him as a breath of fresh air with his new thinking on an old game.
His only win this calendar year came at Bay Hill back in March and there have been too many ordinary performances since for 7/1 to appeal when there are two reigning Major winners Matsuyama and Phil Mickelson around.
Regular top-table veterans Reed and Webb Simpson also look certain to have a say and hot prospects Will Zalatoris, Wolff and the exciting South African Garrick Higgo, already at 22 a winner on both main tours make for an exciting week in Michigan.
Reed’s only 2021 success came at Torrey Pines in January but he keeps delivering. It is always good to have his consistency and short-game magic on your side. He has course form (fifth last year) and it’s hard to pick holes in the current state of his game.
Top-tens at the Masters and in the big WGC event at The Concession, top-20s in the two subsequent Majors, fifth at Memorial, sixth at Quail Hollow … it’s all there in black and white.
If DeChambeau flops, Reed and late bloomer Jason Kokrak can pick up the pieces. It took the giant Kokrak 233 tournaments to chalk up his first win at the CJ Cup in October, then, like the number-nine bus, two came along (almost) at once with his defeat of Jordan Spieth at Colonial in May.
There were plenty of prominent showings in between, the secret of his success being finding a putting method that works, flat-stick frailty having held him back in the past.
Also given a solid each-way shout are Kevin Kisner and Masters champion Matsuyama. Kisner was third to DeChambeau last year and was back in the groove after a sticky patch with a brace of 63s for fifth place at River Highlands.
Matsuyama has been steady rather than spectacular since Augusta but knows how to win and is a big fish in a small pond here.
Harris English, a 33/1 winning tip in the Travelers, isn’t playing but Kramer Hickok, the 300/1 outsider he beat at the eighth extra hole, tees up again after getting so tantalisingly close to a breakthrough.
Now that Hickok doesn’t need to worry about keeping his card, expect him to outrun his three-figure odds but my best outsider is Austria’s beefy Sepp Straka who has shown a liking for this 7370-yard par 72, the flattest course on tour and one of the oldest, designed by the great Donald Ross in 1916.
Straka finished eighth and 11th in the two previous editions of the Rocket Mortgage and caught the eye when tenth in the Travelers at the weekend.