Irish Open: Five picks who could be teed up for success at Ballyliffin

Our golf insider takes an in-depth look at the key competitors lining up for the Irish Open


It is a double-edged sword, teeing it up in front of your own support at one’s national Open.

The roar of appreciation that greets you on the tee box as you make your homecoming may give you an adrenaline-fuelled extra few yards to your drive but it could equally make that tricky ten-foot putt all the more pressurised, such is the burden of expectation weighing on your shoulders from well-wishing galleries.

Nor is it just inside the ropes. Players who ordinarily escape the recorder’s hut at the end of a round and scurry straight for the car park at every other tournament are suddenly required to sign autographs for 30 or 40 minutes before they can make their break for sanctuary while the microphones and cameras that usually lie in wait for the game’s superstars are now being pointed by local media searching for familiar accents.

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It is a lot to deal with and every golfer copes in different ways. In Ballyliffin this weekend as the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open visits Donegal for the first time, there will be an array of reactions to the hullabaloo from the 14 Irish participants.

For tournament host Rory McIlroy, still the cream of the Irish crop, the attention will be nothing he has not seen a thousand times before, such is the rarefied air he occupies in the world game. He has also learned how to deal with a home crowd and manage expectations that once got the better of him on his inbound visits. Winning one, of course, takes a huge load off and McIlroy, like Padraig Harrington, has removed that particular simian from his back. Harrington broke a 25-year drought stretching back to John O’Leary in 1982 when he triumphed at Adare in 2007, the same year he went on to land the first of his three major championships at Carnoustie.

McIlroy landed the title in 2016 at the K Club at the 10th time of asking following a run of three missed cuts in the tournament, but even winning an Irish Open is not necessarily a blessing.

Take Shane Lowry, who made his name by winning as an amateur in 2009 at Co. Louth. On Tuesday at Ballyliffin he frankly admitted to not being able to cope with the additional pressures of playing an Irish Open as a homegrown talent and said his victory he probably been down to not knowing “what it was about and how hard it was to play in it as a home player”.

It was a candid media session from Lowry, who also revealed his frustrations with his short game, which he said was not the Shane Lowry of three or four years ago.

Back then he reached a career-high world ranking of 17 following his astonishing victory at Akron’s Firestone Country Club in the 2015 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and seemed set to launch himself into the bigtime.

Lowry is hardly on his uppers now but he has slipped to number 90 in the world rankings and has struggled throughout this year following his decision to base himself in Florida and play the PGA Tour rather than criss-cross the Atlantic competing in Europe as well.

At times in the States he has seemed more lost than Graeme McDowell’s clubs have been this week after they failed to appear on the baggage carousel on his way home from Paris, forcing the 2010 US Open champion to withdraw from Open qualifying on Monday.

At least GMac expects to be reunited with his bag on Wednesday morning ahead of his Pro-Am tee-time. Lowry seems stuck in that dreaded golfing limbo, feeling his game is on the cusp of clicking into place.

As he embarks on his 10th Irish Open, his 62 at Co. Louth a fading memory, Lowry will be hoping his links experience and acumen and some welcome Donegal sunshine and sea air can make Ballyliffin the place it all comes right.

Irish Open – Five Picks to win it

Jon Rahm 15/2

Defending champion who tamed Portstewart 12 months ago with a closing seven-under-par 65 to win by six a 24 under for the week. World number five is having a fine year, fourth at the Masters and winner of his home Spanish Open in April and despite a missed cut at Shinnecock, rebounded with a T5 last Sunday at the French Open.

Thorbjorn Olesen 25/1

Seventh in the Race to Dubai rankings following his Italian Open victory a month ago, the Dane has finished MC (US Open), T2 (BMW International Open), MC (French Open) in his last three starts. The former Alfred Dunhill Links winner is due another bounceback.

Paul Dunne 28/1

Is Dunne the man to carry Irish hopes at Ballyliffin this week? The Greystones golfer who won the British Masters in 2017 had a shaky start to 2018 but has turned a corner and was second behind Rahm at the Spanish Open. Back on familiar links ground this week but still flying under the radar with local fans compared to the likes of McIlroy, Harrington and Lowry.

Haotong Li 35/1

Chinese star reeled in Rory McIlroy down the straight to take this year’s Dubai Desert Classic and the 22-year-old has ticked plenty of boxes for this week, third behind Jordan Spieth at last year’s Open Championship at Birkdale, and coming off a US Open T16 at Shinnecock, and last week’s T21 at the French Open.

Matthew Southgate 50/1

Irish Open joint runner-up with Richie Ramsay behind Rahm at Portstewart a year ago who followed up with a tie for sixth at Birkdale in The Open Coming into form again following a tie for fifth at last week’s French Open.

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