There's no Ryder Cup this week but we do have European Tour action with the 65th edition of Irish Open. Steve Rawlings previews the gathering at Galgorm here...
"Given we may well get a windy test that favours straight hitters, I’m happy to play the recent Valderrama winner, John Catlin, who followed up the win with an impressive enough eighth place at the Portugal Masters two weeks ago.
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 the tournament has gone from strength to strength.
Originally due to be staged in May this year, the Irish Open has been moved to what would have been Ryder Cup week.
It's a nomadic event and this year we're off to the Galgorm Spa & Golf resort in Ballymena for what is the 65th edition.
Galgorm Spa & Golf, Ballymena, Northern Ireland
Par 70 - 7,087 yards
Designed by Simon Gidman and opened in 1997, Galgorm is a fairly short par 70 parkland course with water in play on as many as 12 holes.
Although not used on the European Tour before, Galgorm has been the venue for the Northern Ireland Open on the Challenge Tour since 2013 and that event was last staged as recently as the start of the month.
NI Open Ambassador, Michael Hoey, was able to get some practice at Galgorm before the off and he had this to say about the venue.
"The course is in great condition, really defined and the rough is up which will definitely be a factor. I'm driving the ball very well at the moment and you have to drive well around Galgorm. It's a course where you can make birdies if you keep it straight, but you can make it very difficult for yourself if you miss the fairways."
First round leader, Julien Quesne, had this to say after his opening round.
"It was really windy today. We only had one hole with rain, so it was okay. The wind made the course quite difficult and I'm quite happy with my score today."
And England's Alfie Plant, who sat tied second after the opening day, added.
"It was a little bit scrappy out there. The rough is so thick so whenever you miss the fairway you're scrambling for pars. I made some key putts to keep the momentum going and it was nice to come in with no bogeys.
"If you feel like you're hitting your driver well, you've got to go for it and be further down in the rough. If you do take a three-wood or an iron off the tee and you do miss the fairway then you're miles back. I think, sometimes, it's worth the gamble hitting the driver."
And here's what halfway leader, Enrico Di Nitto had to say about the course after his second round.
"It's really, really tough out there because of the wind and some rain," he said. "We're not too used to it in Italy so it's kind of new. The tee shot is pretty important here. I played pretty well from the tee and I holed great putts, so I'm pretty happy with that."
Northern Ireland Open Winners at Galgorm
2013 - Daan Huizing -13 (playoff)
2014 - Joakim Lagergren -13
2015 - Clement Sordet -17
2016 - Ryan Fox -19
2017 - Robin Sciot-Siegrist -3
2018 - Calum Hill -19
2019 - Jack Senior -11
2020 - Tyler Koivisto -13
All eight winners are in the field this week.
Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 13:00 on Thursday
Last Five Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices
2019 - Jon Rahm -16 10.09/1
2018 - Russell Knox -14 (playoff) 28.027/1
2017 - Jon Rahm -24 17.5
2016 - Rory McIlroy -12 5.49/2
2015 - Soren Kjeldsen -2 (playoff) 340.0339/1
What Will it Take to Win the Irish Open?
I'd be very surprised if they've cut the rough down significantly since the Northern Ireland Open so with windy conditions forecasted for the first two days accuracy off the tee should be important.
After two days of windy weather, we're forecasted to get a more benign weekend which, in theory, may offer up the chance for someone to make a big move on Saturday morning but in eight editions of the Northern Ireland Open here, nobody has won from any more than four strokes back at any stage, suggesting making up ground here will be tough.
Winning scores have fluctuated greatly so the tournament must have been played if varying weather conditions but the closest we've come to someone winning from off the pace is in the last two editions.
Jack Senior sat 20th and four off the lead last year but he's the only winner to be more than three adrift after round one and having sat second and just one off the lead, Tyler Koivisto, who won here two weeks ago, was tied for 12th and four back at halfway after shooting 71 in round two. The American bounced back with a 62 in round three to lead by three but he's only the third 54 hole leader to convert.
Daan Huizing beat Oliver Wilson in a playoff, having led by six with a round to go of the inaugural staging and Lagergren held on to win by one a year later, having also led by six through 54 holes.
Opposing the leader or leaders through three rounds may well be worthwhile. As many as eight players have led or co-led here through three rounds and lost and the list includes South Africa's Dylan Frittelli, who's since won on the PGA Tour.
There have been one or two bright sparks from the Open champ, Shane Lowry, since the restart. He was sixth at the WGC-FedEx St Jude Invitational and he sat just one off the lead at halfway at the Wyndham Championship but he finished only 23rd before missing his next two cuts.
It's great to see him here but he's not for me. There are no crowds to lift him and he's hard to fancy after a gruelling week at the US Open last week, where he eventually finished tied for 43rd.
George Coetzee has been in fine fettle for a month now, winning the Portugal Masters two weeks ago after a second and a win in his native South Africa, and he was third last week at the Open de Portugal when high winds were a factor. If he isn't fatigued, he's clearly a danger but I'm happy to leave him out.
Fellow South African, Wilco Nienaber, has a very bright future but the big-hitting 19-year-old looks short to me given he fell away in round three at the Portugal Masters, having looked in great shape after an eagle at the fifth hole.
Ryan Fox should be a popular pick given he's won at the course and that he was desperately unlucky in this event two years ago when he traded at long odds-on before Knox holed a bomb on 18 to deny him but he to has the disadvantage of travelling back from the States having missed the cut after shooting 85 in round two! He's been in fair form on the European Tour but 15th in the wales Open is his best result to date.
Maybe there's a huge gulf in class and/or potential between fellow South African youngsters Wilco Nienaber and Garrick Higgo but I can't understand why last week's winner, Higgo, is so much bigger than Nienaber given he not only won last week on the European Tour in Portugal, but he also finished seventh here on his penultimate start, having sat tied for 63rd after the opening round.
Sam Horsfield has won twice on the European Tour since the restart, Coetzee went back-to-back, winning on the Sunshine Tour before the European Tour in consecutive weeks, and players holding their form over the summer has been something of a theme. I'm more than happy to play Higgo at 46.045/1 given he went off at almost half that price when he won last week.
Given we may well get a windy test that favours straight hitters, I'm also happy to play the recent Valderrama winner, John Catlin, who followed up the win with an impressive enough eighth place at the Portugal Masters two weeks ago. He looks a fair price to be the second American to win here this month.
Garrick Higgo @ 46.045/1
John Catlin @ 65.064/1
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter
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