The Irish Open kicks off a brilliant three week stretch of links golf on the European Tour and our man has the lowdown at Ballyliffin Golf Club. Read Steve's in-depth preview here...
“I can’t get away from Rahm at all this week and he should be the clear favourite. Defending champions have a decent record in this event, the conditions are ideal, and he won last year’s edition by six strokes. He’s won three of his last 15 events and his strike rate on the European Tour is ridiculous. Discounting majors and WGC events, this will be just his eighth regular ET tournament and he’s already won three of them!
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 now that Rory McIlroy has put his full weight behind it the tournament has gone from strength to strength.
This is the fourth year running that Rory McIlroy's charitable initiative, the Rory Foundation,
has hosted the event and this is the second year that the tournament has featured in the Rolex Series.
The Irish Open is a nomadic event and this year we're off to the Ballyliffin Golf Club in Co. Donegal for what is the 63rd edition.
Ballyliffin Golf Club is a 36-hole links complex, comprising of the Old Links and this week's tournament venue, the Glashedy Links, so the Irish Open kicks off a fabulous three week stretch of links golf on the European Tour.
Next week we're off to Gullane for the Scottish Open and the Open Championship at Carnoustie is now just a fortnight away.
Glashedy Links, Ballyliffin Golf Club, Co. Donegal, Ireland.
Par 72, 7,462 yards
Ballyliffin hosted the North West of Ireland Open on the European Tour 16 years ago when only five players broke par. Sweden's Adam Mednick won by five, having reached seven-under-par in a week where the weather came to the course's defence but we look set for very calm conditions this week so scoring will improve considerably.
The European Tour website hasn't yet published any venue information so it's hard to get to grips with the course but trawling through Twitter, and especially replies to the below tweet by Dave Tindall, it looks like we're in for some low scores, despite the rough being up.
Anyone played Ballyliffin - host venue for this week's Irish Open? Any course comments welcome! Cheers.? Dave Tindall (@DaveTindallgolf) July 1, 2018
I've also spent time looking at various videos of the venue on YouTube and it looks absolutely stunning. We're in for a treat.
Live on Sky Sports all four days, beginning at 10:30 on Thursday.
Last Five Winners
2017 - Jon Rahm -24
2016 - Rory McIlroy -12
2015 - Soren Kjeldsen -2 (playoff)
2014 - Mikko Ilonen -13
2013 - Paul Casey -14
Is There an Angle In?
Since moving in the schedule last year, 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 Carnoustie over those not doing so.
As for this week, well, please see last year. 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 last year.
For more links form, check out the 2009, 2012, 2015 and 2017 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 set for yet another well-fancied Rolex Series winner?
After Alex Noren's off the pace victory in Paris on Sunday, we've now had 11 Rolex Series events and all of them have been won by a top-class player. Olesen, who won the Italian Open, is the only winner to go off at odds in excess of 100.099/1 and nine of the 11 have been priced at 25.024/1 or below before the off.
I'm running the risk of repeating myself but given how well the fancied players are faring in these events it's a point well worth labouring. Here's a list of 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
Is There an Identikit Winner?
Players from the UK and Ireland have a great record in this event, and they've won nine of the last 13 renewals, but the Danes can't readily be dismissed. Soren Kjeldsen, Thomas Bjorn and Anders Hansen have all won the tournament in the last 16 years so if it isn't an Irishman, Scotsman Englishman, or Welshman scooping the prize this week it might 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 Jon Rahm fans.
Obviously, we've no 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 the last four Irish Opens staged at a links course; all three winners have been in the van throughout.
Rahm sat one off 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 of 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 three years ago, was always inside the front three, never more than two strokes back, and in front after 54 holes.
Rory McIlroy knows the course very well, describing it as "one of the toughest links courses in the world. It's really well designed, it's a beautiful course and Donegal is just a beautiful area."
It won't play tough this week with barely a breath of wind forecast and that might suit Rory but there are definitely negatives surrounding the popular event host.
McIlroy won the Irish Open two years ago, but his tournament form is ludicrously inconsistent reading MC-7-50-35-34-10-MC-MC-MC-1-MC and his putting is of a grave concern. His entire game looked in good shape last time out at the Travelers Championship. Nobody drove the ball further and he ranked seventh for Greens In regulation and third for Scrambling but of the 74 players to make the cut, Rory ranked dead last for Strokes Gained Putting. A return to his homeland and a course he knows may help but on these larger than average dancefloors, his current flat-stick prowess has to be a concern and he's not for me.
Jon Rahm traded at odds-on on Sunday in Paris before he made a complete mess of the par four 12th. That was still another great effort on the European Tour though, at a venue that would test anyone's patience, let alone a young hothead's like Rahm.
I can't get away from him at all this week and he should be the clear favourite. Defending champions have a decent record in this event, the conditions are ideal, and he won last year's edition by six strokes. He's won three of his last 15 events and his strike rate on the European Tour is ridiculous. Discounting majors and WGC events, this will be just his eighth regular ET tournament and he's already won three of them!
I've thrown a few pounds at each-way pick, Lucas Bjerregaard, on the exchange at a big price but I'm only really playing Jon Rahm before the off here.
As stated above, he's my idea of the favourite and with no wind forecast, I can see him tearing it up again and making it a successful defence. Given his strike rate, it's impossible to crab the price.
Jon Rahm @ 8.615/2
Lucas Bjerregaard @ 95.094/1
I'll be back shortly with my Greenbrier Classic preview.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter