McIlroy, Clarke, McDowell & Harrington lead local talent at the Irish Open
The local talent preparing for the Irish Open are also amongst the favourites writes Alex Johnson...
The Irish Open has been dominated in recent times by local talent. Six of the last seven winners have come from Ireland or England, with Welshman Jamie Donaldson’s success at Portrush in 2012 breaking that dominance.
Martin Kaymer's runaway success meant the US Open at Pinehurst rather failed to catch fire last weekend. The German steamrolled the field from the word go and never looked like relinquishing his lead.
The European Tour takes centre stage this week with the Irish Open at Fota Island Golf Resort in Co Cork.
The event holds a rich tradition of large crowds and thrilling finales. Since the turn of the century, the Irish Open has already witnessed five playoff conclusions.
Coming on the back of the R&A's announcement this week that the Open Championship will soon return to Irish shores at Royal Portrush, there is sure to be a carnival atmosphere on the south coast.
The Irish Open has been dominated in recent times by local talent. Six of the last seven winners have come from Ireland or England, with Welshman Jamie Donaldson's success at Portrush in 2012 breaking that dominance.
Coming just a week after the second major of the year, the Irish Open begins the countdown in earnest to the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool in less than a month's time.
The Scottish Open also sits nicely between now and Hoylake. The players are already beginning to prepare, with Graeme McDowell stopping off in Liverpool for a practice round en route home from the States.
Monday's announcement that the Dunluce links was being added to the Open Championship rota found R&A Chief Executive Peter Dawson citing continued "badgering" from Ireland's recent major winners as an influence in the decision.
Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke, McDowell and Padraig Harrington will all be hoping to perform well in Co Cork. They are the marquee players from a local contingent of 27, but how do their chances rate?
McIlroy's best effort in Ireland came at Adare Manor in 2008 when he finished seventh.
He clearly was not at his best on the hard and fast surfaces of Pinehurst last week where he just edged inside the top 30.
Back on a parkland course with receptive greens, McIlroy should relish this challenge. His last European start yielded victory at Wentworth's PGA Championship in May.
McDowell has had his season somewhat derailed since missing the cut at Augusta but prior to that, the 2010 US Open winner was showing positive signs of returning to winning ways.
Both Harrington and Clarke are struggling for form, but 2009 Irish Open winner Shane Lowry comes to Cork in rude health.
Runner-up to McIlroy at Wentworth, Lowry then secured qualification for the US Open at Walton Heath in fine style. A missed cut at Pinehurst should not affect his confidence back on home soil.
For 43-year-old Harrington, a worrying decline since he landed the last of his three major titles at Oakland Hills is in need of arrest.
He will hope to draw on the memories of back-to-back top ten finishes at Fota when the Irish Open was last staged here.
There have been some fleeting glimpses of improved form for the affable Dubliner in the past few months, but he must rediscover the ability to put four good rounds together. Perhaps a vociferous home support can be the spark he needs.
Harrington's Open Championship win at Carnoustie was said to have instilled belief in the Irish players that followed his lead to major success and perhaps a similar trend will ensue for German golf on the back of Kaymer's latest victory.
Marcel Siem looks a lively contender to bring more German success this week at a course he "fell in love with" when it last hosted the event in 2002.
That was Siem's first year on tour and while success didn't arrive overnight, he has claimed three European Tour wins, including one in each of his last two seasons.
He was inside the top ten at Wentworth last month and will have been quietly pleased with his T12 finish behind Kaymer at Pinehurst.
Compatriot Max Kieffer has cited Kaymer's success as an inspiration in the past and having posted T5 at the Spanish Open and T11 at the Nordea Masters, he is knocking on the door for a first tour win.
With four wins in seven years, the English clearly relish a visit to the Emerald Isle and Paul Casey is the defending champion this year.
After a promising start to the US Open, Casey somewhat fell away over the weekend in North Carolina.
The return to a 'target golf' venue like Fota Island will surely bring more comfort for him as he seeks to emulate the likes of Colin Montgomerie, Nick Faldo, Ian Woosnam and Seve Ballesteros in retaining his Irish Open crown.
Ballesteros enjoyed tremendous success in Ireland, winning three times in four years from his maiden win at Royal Dublin in 1983.
Jose Maria Olazabal and Sergio Garcia continued the Spanish success story in the 1990s but they are without a win since the turn of the century.
Since winning the Dubai World Championship in 2011, Alvaro Quiros has endured a huge slump in his career.
However, the big-hitting 31-year-old has returned to form in 2014, with three top tens on his CV already.
This included a T6 earlier his month in Sweden and given his enormous power from the tee, a seventh European Tour win looks imminent.
Five years ago, Lowry won this event as an amateur at Baltray. Now, Matthew Fitzpatrick of England makes his professional debut.
He sparkled in the spotlight at Pinehurst last week and will still have the warm glow of a closing 69 on Sunday as he begins life as a professional in Co Cork.
All eyes will be on him come Thursday morning after his US Open heroics.
There is no shortage of former champions in the field this week.
Casey defends his crown with former local winners Harrington and Lowry, and they are joined by the likes of Simon Dyson, Ross Fisher, Richard Finch and Dane Soren Hansen, who was the winner when the event was last staged on this course.
Hansen won in a playoff after finishing on 14-under par while a year earlier Monty was four shots better off on -18 for his third Irish win.
The par-71 layout has undergone some subtle changes in an effort to cope with the modern player.
Notably the quartet of par-fives have been lengthened in addition to a demanding new tee-shot at the par-three sixth hole.
Rory McIlroy was chasing down his clubs on Tuesday after they were mislaid on his return to Dublin from the US.
He took to social media in a bid to get them back. Can the two-time major winner now stroke off another career ambition by claiming a first success in his national open?