Sarah Stirk: Huge Irish Open galleries can help Ryder Cup star return to winning form
Sky Sports golf presenter Sarah Stirk tipped 40/1 winner Brooks Koepka last time out on Betting.Betfair and starts a three-week stint with a good look at this week's Irish Open...
"I think Rory has really relished the growing stature of this event and takes a huge amount of pride in the work of his charitable foundation. Some players would find hosting duties and everything that comes with it a challenge, making it hard to focus on your game, but I think it's a bonus for McIlroy and gives him an extra edge."
I'm really looking to the next three weeks in Europe, with two superb tournaments being staged ahead of The Open Championship at Birkdale. I'm also fascinated by the prospect of seeing the tournament host Rory McIlroy playing three straight weeks. As we all know he's been severely lacking competition this year and admitted to me at the US Open he needed more reps and rounds under his belt.
Busy schedule not the McIlroy norm but it might benefit this time...
I do think it's a fine balance with Rory though. He's not one of these golfers who can play a lot of weeks. Again, something I've talked to him a lot about over the past few years is not playing too much because mentally he just gets stale. He likes time and rest in between events and as we all know he's a big believer in getting the right balance in his life. This is true more than ever having recently got married. Three straight weeks is his maximum but due to injury at the start of the year, the timing of playing these three weeks is absolutely crucial and it bodes really well for the year's third major championship.
I think Rory has really relished the growing stature of this event and takes a huge amount of pride in the work of his charitable foundation. Some players would find hosting duties and everything that comes with it a challenge, making it hard to focus on your game, but I think it's a bonus for McIlroy and gives him an extra edge.
McIlroy has said himself he expects this to be the biggest and best Irish Open to date and with massive crowds expected, everyone is hoping he can replicate the incredible golf which took him to the title 12 months ago. If he were to win the tournament for a second time he would join an illustrious list of multiple winners including Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer, Nick Faldo and Colin Montgomerie.
A true links test awaits at Portstewart
For the first time in the tournament's history we head to stunning Portstewart, a highly rated links course right next to Portrush. It's going to be a true links test with the layout of the course meaning the holes travel in all directions, not out and then back in. Wind and rain will of course be a factor all week and that has really informed my selections.
Sarah's Selections - Irish Open
The Ryder Cup star from Gleneagles won the Irish Open in 2012 when it was held just down the road at Portrush. Donaldson, as we know from Gleneagles, is a big-time player and once again I think he'll thrive in front of huge galleries this week. We had him in the Sky Sports studio a few months back and he was really excited about the upcoming season and finally been injury free. He talked openly about the post-Ryder Cup hangover but that's now fully behind him, he's just excited about playing golf with a healthy body. The fact he's a former champion is one factor, but Donaldson has also been playing well recently. He had a good week at the Nordea Masters in Sweden finishing 7th - and Betfair are paying down to seventh on each-way bets this week - and decent performances at the BMW International in Germany and last week in France. He's just lacking the consistency over four rounds with 75s in round three in his last two starts.
With eight of the last ten winners hailing from GB and Ireland I expect that trend to continue and I'm backing Lowry as one of my picks. I'm a big fan of Shane as a golfer and a person but it's a bit of a punt given his recent form has been mixed and he's adjusting to life as a new dad! He was disappointing in France missing the cut, but did have a great week at the BMW PGA Championship. However, if there's ever a week for him to be inspired it's this one. Seeing him win the Irish Open in 2009 as an amateur is still one of my favourite memories.
I've backed Rafa before this season and he let me down but I'm going in again! The Spanish Ryder Cup star has a great record in this event with four career top-10 finishes and in the last two Irish Opens held on links courses - at Portrush in 2012 and Royal County Down in 2015 - he finished tied second and tied fourth, respectively. His greens in regulation stats are always high and that's been no exception down the years at this tournament. Two top-fives recently on the PGA Tour pay testament to some recent good play and he certainly doesn't mind breezy conditions. This consistent type looks like rewarding a bet in the place markets.