Rory McIlroy is favourite to win his home European Tour event and Ralph Ellis thinks he deserves a bit of luck on the links of Ballyliffin this week...
"Nobody drove it further at the Travelers Championship where he finished tied 12th, and he wouldn’t have to tweak his putting by much at Ballyliffin to be a serious contender. Odds against of 2.77/4 for a top five finish look generous."
Few players have given more to one event than Rory McIlroy has contributed to the Irish Open Golf tournament. This week he could just do with it giving a bit back.
McIlroy has been pivotal in changing what had become a minor tournament into something that is now one of the flagship European Tour dates. It arguably began simply by him agreeing to play it at all when it returned to Northern Ireland after 50 years in 2012, and his presence made it the first Tour event to sell out in advance for all four days.
Since then he's got more and more involved, acting as Tournament Host through his Rory Foundation for the last three years and again in Ballyliffin this week.
It was unquestionably Rory's influence that brought Dubai Duty Free on board as sponsors and thus enabled the Irish Open to step up as part of the European Tour's Rolex Series of events with a six million Euro prize fund.
So McIlroy has given, but hasn't taken. Of course he won in Straffan in 2016, but otherwise he's missed the cut in four of his last five appearances in his homeland and it's hard not to think he's been weighed down each time by his responsibilities to make everything run smoothly.
Cutting back on host duties
It's a history that would leave you worried if you were backing him as 7.87/1 favourite to recapture his 2016 crown. It's hard not to share the view of Steve Rawlings that second favourite Jon Rahm 8.27/1 is the value.
But for me there's just a feeling that for Rory this year might be different. As I said he's still the Tournament Host - albeit for the final time before a rota of other Irish golfing stars Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke, Graeme McDowell and Paul McGinley begin to share the duties.
But the word is that he's already changed his approach, bringing in others from the organising committee to take on more of the workload and allow him to concentrate on getting his form right on the course.
He needs it right now. It's hardly been a disastrous season - he's still world number seven, for heaven's sakes. But the glimpse of promise he showed winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational back in March has never been followed up by any sort of consistency.
He flattered to deceive finishing tied fifth in the Masters, unable to sustain his challenge when the pressure came on. And in the other big events, The Players and then the US Open, he missed the cut.
Crowd will be on his side
He is playing well. Nobody drove it further at the Travelers Championship where he finished tied 12th, and he wouldn't have to tweak his putting by much at Ballyliffin to be a serious contender. Odds against of 2.77/4 for a top five finish look generous.
McIlroy needs a big tournament win to breathe confidence back into his psyche. You sense he's been trying too hard and putting too much pressure on himself.
So the environment in Ireland where he'll be the star of the show and everybody will be on his side could just be perfect for helping him relax and hit the heights.
The weather is expected to be kind, giving the brightest talents every chance to show their best, and the course is rated as one of Ireland's most beautiful. The event owes McIlroy - here's hoping it will bring him a kind bounce or two to put his season back on track.