The Irish Open kicks off a brilliant three week stretch of links golf on the European Tour and our man has the lowdown at Lahinch Golf Club. Read Steve's in-depth preview here...
"I thought Matt Wallace was just big enough to warrant a small saver before the off and two-time Alfred Dunhill Links winner, Tyrrell Hatton, who has a pair of top-fives in this event looks to be finding some form."
The Irish Open has had a bit of a chequered past. There have been spells when the event wasn't played at all and there were even a few years in the 1970s when it was known as the Carroll's International. It's been an ever-present on the European Tour since 1974 though and the tournament has gone from strength to strength.
The Irish Open is a nomadic event and this year we're off to the Lahinch Golf Club in Co. Clare for what is the 64th edition.
This is the fourth time in five years that the tournament will be staged on a links course and that makes plenty of sense given we're off to the Renaissance Club for the Scottish Open next week before we return to Ireland for the Open Championship at Royal Portrush in a fortnight. The Irish Open is the second Rolex Series event of the year.
The North Course, Lahinch Golf Club, Lahinch, Co. Clare, Ireland.
Par 70, 7,036 yards
Lahinch is a traditional out-and-in seaside links situated on the west coast of Ireland. Designed by Old Tom Morris and worked on by Dr Alister MacKenzie in 1927, and by Martin Hawtree in 1999, Lahinch looks to have a tough start after the 381-yard par four first. The second, another par four (converted from a five for this week), measures 523 yards, the third 446 and the fourth, 475 yards.
As a par 70, there are only two par fives and they both come on the back nine - the 12th and the 18th.
Described at the St Andrews of Ireland, it's a wonderful undulating track with large natural dunes, providing some brilliant natural viewing points, and numerous blind shots.
There's a goat on the club's crest, a bronze called The Rampant Goat is also a feature at the course and goats have been roaming the fairways and predicting the weather for almost one hundred years! There's more on that peculiar tale here.
And the video below gives us a lovely feel for the track.
Live on Sky Sports all four days, beginning at 10:30 on Thursday.
Last Five Winners
2018 - Russell Knox -14 (playoff)
2017 - Jon Rahm -24
2016 - Rory McIlroy -12
2015 - Soren Kjeldsen -2 (playoff)
2014 - Mikko Ilonen -13
Is There an Angle In?
Since moving in the schedule in 2017, from May to July, the organisers, as they've done in Scotland next week, have decided to stick to a links venue and it makes perfect sense. There's no better way to warm up for the Open Championship than playing links golf and anyone playing this week and next should enjoy a sizable advantage at Royal Portrush over those not doing so.
Links golf varies between venues but it's intrinsically the same and the big factor is always the weather. When the wind gets up, true coastal links like this week's are always a tough gig but in benign, fast, dry conditions, scoring can get silly low, as it did in 2017.
For more links form, check out the 2009, 2012, 2015, 2017 and 2018 editions of this event, form at Open Championships, which are always played on a links course, recent editions of the Scottish Open (from 2011 onwards) and also the Alfred Dunhill Links, which is held in Scotland every autumn and played out at Carnoustie, Kingsbarns and St Andrews.
Are we witnessing a change to the Rolex Series winners' profiles?
When Russell Knox won this event 12 months ago, he became the 12th Rolex Series winner and he was the 10th Series winner priced at 27.026/1 or below, and even the two that had won at bigger prices, Rafa Cabrera-Bello and Thorbjörn Olesen, were both Ryder Cuppers.
Since Knox's success, Justin Rose won the Turkish Islands Open when favourite but four of the last five Rolex Series event winners have been priced at 55.054/1 or above and Brandon Stone won the Scottish Open having been matched at 1000.0 before the off so it's possible that the profile of these events is changing. Is it possible that they've already lost some of their lustre?
Here's a list of all the Rolex Series winners to date, together with their exchange price before the off.
BMW PGA Championship 2017 - Alex Noren 22.021/1
Open de France 2017 - Tommy Fleetwood 25.024/1
Irish Open 2017 - Jon Rahm 18.017/1
Scottish Open 2017 - Rafa Cabrera-Bello 65.064/1
Italian Open 2017 - Tyrrell Hatton 20.019/1
Turkish Airlines Open 2017 - Justin Rose 9.28/1
Nedbank Golf Challenge 2017 - Branden Grace 18.017/1
DP World Championship 2017 - Jon Rahm 14.013/1
BMW PGA Championship 2018 - Francesco Molinari 22.021/1
Italian Open 2018 - Thorbjorn Olesen 130.0129/1
Open de France 2018 - Alex Noren 19.5
Irish Open 2018 - Russell Knox 27.026/1
Scottish Open 2018 - Brandon Stone 1000.0
Turkish Airlines Open 2018 - Justin Rose 5.85/1
Nedbank Golf Challenge 2018 - Lee Westwood 55.054/1
DP World Championship 2018 - Danny Willett 150.0149/1
Abu Dhabi Championship 2019 - Shane Lowry 90.089/1
Is There an Identikit Winner?
Players from the UK and Ireland have a great record in this event, and they've won 10 of the last 14 renewals, but the Danes can't readily be dismissed. Soren Kjeldsen, Thomas Bjorn and Anders Hansen have all won the tournament in the last 17 years so if it isn't an Irishman, Scotsman Englishman, or Welshman scooping the prize this week it might well be a Dane.
Multiple winners and defending champions are fairly common. Mark James (1979-80), Seve Ballesteros (1985-86), Ian Woosnam (1988-89), Nick Faldo (1991-92-93) and Monty (1996-97) have all won consecutive renewals so there's plenty of encouragement for Russell Knox fans.
We haven't got any tournament form at the venue to look back on but links golf is links golf wherever it's played and making up ground isn't always easy on a links track.
A fast start is usually essential in Open Championships and looking back at recent Irish Opens staged at a links course; the winners have nearly always been up with the pace.
Knox went against the grain somewhat 12 months ago as he was tied for 30th after round one but he was still only four adrift and he was tied ninth and four back at halfway. Erik Van Rooyen threatened to run away with the event and he led by four with a round to go. The South African was matched at just 1.42/5 before he lost his way completely and Knox, who had sat fifth and six behind Van Rooyen through 54 holes, ended up winning a playoff against Ryan Fox but not before Fox, who had sat second with a round to go having led after rounds one and two, had been matched in-running at 1.111/9.
In 2017, Jon Rahm sat one of the lead and tied for third after round one, alone in third but still only one adrift at halfway and he was tied for the lead after 54 holes.
Shane Lowry was tied for tenth and four off the pace at County Louth in 2009 but he led all the way after that, eventually winning in a playoff. Jamie Donaldson, at Royal Portrush in 2012, was never more than three off the pace and in front with a round to go and Soren Kjeldsen, at Royal County Down four years ago, was always inside the front three, never more than two strokes back, and in front after 54 holes.
As is so often the case, it's probably best to concentrate on the leaders from very early on as playing catch-up on links layouts is notoriously difficult without poor weather.
The 2017 winner, Jon Rahm, heads the market and so he should. He powered away from the field two years ago at Portstewart, to win by six, after holing out for eagle on the fifth hole in round four - demonstrating his obvious aptitude for links golf.
Conditions were benign that year and looking at the early forecasts, it looks like we might get a slightly windier week but it certainly doesn't look awful and Rahm might just enjoy himself.
He was beaten by six on Sunday at Valderrama but that margin is misleading. He pushed the winner harder than anyone else and was matched at just 2.56/4 in running. He finished the event poorly once he knew he was beat. Given he finished third in the US Open at Pebble Beach Links in his penultimate start he comes here in fine fettle with a favourite's chance.
Tommy Fleetwood is a less attractive proposition given his price and his current form. Another superb links exponent, he obviously can't be readily dismissed but his recent form figures, reading 48-65-13, are nothing to write home about and he looks short enough for someone that's won just once in the last two years.
In contrast to Tommy, Matt Wallace has won three times since last March and he's looked like winning a couple of times in the last two months. He traded at just 1.705/7 to win the British Masters in May at the Hillside Links and he was matched for plenty at 2.01/1 in Germany two weeks ago but he seemed to get in his own way on both occasions.
Wallace is starting to get a poor reputation amongst golf fans with his agitated on-course demeanour and his poor attitude towards his caddy but there's certainly no lack of desire to win there and another victory could be imminent. In addition to those near misses, he's also finished third at the US PGA Championship and 12th at the US Open recently and he looks a far better price than Tommy given their respective form and strike-rates.
I thought Matt Wallace was just big enough to warrant a small saver before the off and two-time Alfred Dunhill Links winner, Tyrrell Hatton, who has a pair of top-fives in this event looks to be finding some form. He's an incredibly good links player and his tied 21st in the US Open last time out was a very fair enough effort to warrant a modest wager here at 32.031/1.
Although he's lost his form a bit since his impressive display at the WGC-Match Play, last year's Dunhill Links winner, Lucas Bjerregaard, is too big at a triple figure price and the same can be said of last year's unlucky loser, Ryan Fox, who was also fourth in the event in 2017.
And finally, I'm playing my each-way pick, Alvaro Quiros, on the exchange as well at a tasty price. He's averaged 1.67 putts per green in each of his last two tournaments and he could very easily contend again here after finishing third and second in his last two starts.
Matt Wallace @ 20.019/1
Tyrrell Hatton @ 32.031/1
Lucas Bjerregaard @ 100.099/1
Ryan Fox @ 130.0129/1
Alvaro Quiros @ 150.0149/1
I'll be back later today or possibly tomorrow with my 3M Open preview.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter