*Each-way terms: 1/4 odds, 5 places
This week I'm in in disagreement with the main man Steve - I think Shane Lowry makes huge appeal at 20/1. He's on record as saying this year's Irish Open is of utmost importance to him and is clearly in excellent form. The affable Irishman's third round 78 at the Players, in brutal conditions, can easily be forgiven - and his 16th place finish reads well. Lowry approaches this year's Irish open with the confidence of a WGC winner and believes it's a key week in his career, with the Olympics and Ryder Cup on the horizon. The home crowd can spur him on to emulate his magnificent 2009 victory as an amateur, and this time he'll get paid.
As Steve points out in his preview, an ability to handle wet and windy conditions will be paramount to success this week and that brings bad weather specialist Ross Fisher right into the argument. Fisher has produced his best golf in such conditions, which partly explains an excellent record in Ireland. In ten Irish Open appearances, Fisher has only twice missed the top-25, with victory in 2010 the best of four top-ten finishes. Though not especially productive, 2016 has been promising, particularly in the long game department. He ranks fourth among these for total driving and averages over 70% for greens in regulation, ranking top-12 for this key discipline in five of his last seven events. That bodes well for one of his best chances of the year.
I could make a case for plenty this week and it's been tough to choose just one for the column. But, in the end, Bernd Wiesberger ticked so many boxes that I had to make him my man. The Austrian comes into the tournament having shown warm - if not red-hot - form throughout 2016, including consecutive top 20s through the Desert Swing and into the high-class WGC-Cadillac. Add in event form, a fourth place on debut followed by last year's runner-up spot, which was secured in atrocious weather, and we know that Wiesberger has the goods to perform in the climate and conditions. Accurate iron play looks the key skill and that is the 30-year-old's major strength. Finally, and most importantly, there is his 40/1 SP and I'm happy to back this three-time winner to become a four-time winner.
The English have won as many Irish Open titles (four) in the last eight years as the Irish have managed in the last 33 and with a wet and windy week forecast at the K Club, I can see that stat becoming five from nine. They have the advantage of playing in conditions they're very much used to but they don't have the burden of expectation that the home contingent must saddle and I fancy that explains the disparity. I like Paul Krishnamurty's fancy, Ross Fisher, and I can see the brand new US Masters champ, Danny Willett, enjoying himself but at a juicy 80/1 I'm going to plump for Andrew 'Beef' Johnson again. The recent Open de Espana winner's excellent Driving Accuracy and Greens In Regulation stats look ideal for the venue and after a poor performance in Morocco, he can bounce back and contend again.
I was pleased to read both here and in his brilliant in-depth preview of this event that Steve gives a big shout to Andrew Johnston, winner of the Challenge Tour Order of Merit in 2014. The reason that's pleasing is because the man Johnston edged out that year is my fancy this week Benjamin Hebert, who actually won the Challenge Tour Grand Final in that season by five strokes, and 10 ahead of Johnston. The 29-year-old Frenchman didn't set the world alight on the European Tour last season but he got better as the year progressed, notably finishing fourth in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, an event that is usually played in tough weather conditions, similar to what is expected in Ireland this week. Hebert has two top-10 finishes to his name on the European Tour from his last five starts, and although this is a much deeper field it's highly encouraging to see that he ranks fifth on the Tour's Greens in Regulation list, a statistic that is expected to be quite advantageous at the K Club. I fancy the Frenchman to go well at a big price.
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