Frazzled looks ahead to the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open from Royal County Down Golf Club and has selections of Marc Warren and Anthony Wall.
The Irish Open has been in the doldrums for many years in terms of attracting some of the biggest names in World Golf. Despite the fact that the event has been invariably well attended, it has failed to attract the interest of sponsors and players alike.
However with the event being hosted by Rory McIlroy and the venue being Royal County Down, which is one of the best links courses anywhere in the world, the 2015 renewal is sponsored by Dubai Duty Free, has a prize fund which has been boosted by €500,000 to €2,500,000, has attracted many of Europe's top players (exceptions being Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson) and all four days has sold out in advance of Thursday.
Royal County Down is an original Tom Morris design from 1889 and has been modified a few times since its creation, with the most recent improvements being as recently as "1926" by Harry Colt. It is a Par 71 that measures up to 7,186 yards and is located in the Murlough Nature reserve against the backdrop of the Mourne Mountains, along the shores of Dundrum Bay. This provides some spectacular views and it has been voted among the best courses in the world on a consistent basis, with it receiving the accolade of the best course outside the United States by Golf Digest in 2007.
The course consists of narrow fairways surrounded by purple heather and golden gorse, while the greens are small and domed, protected by many bearded bunkers, characterised by overhanging fescue grass. There are a number of blind drives and with the wind looking like it will be a significant factor throughout the four days, this looks like it will be a real test of every part of a players' game. If the fairways are missed, there looks to be trouble lurking everywhere, while there are many run off areas on the greens and this will be a real test of scrambling skills if the approach shots miss their targets.
Personally, and while it is no fun for spectators, I prefer a difficult course where conditions are making things uncomfortable for the players as this very often throws up big priced winners and trying to find players that can adapt to the conditions that they will be presented with this week is key. We are therefore looking for players that have a solid bank of form on links courses and/or windy conditions. In addition we are looking for accurate tee to green players with a solid scrambling game.
There are only 3 Par 5s on the course and with the longest being 548 yards, they would all be reachable in benign conditions. However with the wind forecast to be at least 20km per hour each day and with gusts likely to significantly exceed this, a conservative approach is likely to be adopted by most players. The wind will prove very troublesome as the holes go in different directions, so adjusting for the direction at each hole will present another challenge.
A very good week with the putter is likely to be required, although we are looking mainly at players that can get the ball on to the green as efficiently as possible and can have a solid week with the flat stick, rather than chiefly focusing on the putting skills.
Rory McIlroy is clearly the best player in the world and will win this at his best. However he has never been a player that enjoys tough windy conditions and with the spotlight on him as host of his home event, he makes limited appeal, despite the fact that he has drifted from 4.3 out to as far as 5.1 on Betfair.
Sergio Garcia has plenty of links form, but he is another that may not like these conditions and playing with Padraig Harrington on the first couple of days could well unsettle a player that will be keen to get on with things as quickly as possible.
Shane Lowry is an outstanding links player and had an excellent week at the BMW PGA Championship last week, but for his putting letting him down to some extent. However he looks short at a best price of 18/1 in the outright market, even if he might appeal in some other markets.
The best of the market leaders may well be Rickie Fowler. He is in brilliant form after his Players Championship win, excelled on this course in the 2007 Walker Cup and has a very solid bank of links golf form on his CV at this early stage of his career.
Marc Warren is our first pick this week and this venue which is unlikely to place a premium on length off the tee looks like it could really suit a player that excels on links courses and should have few problems adapting to the blustery conditions.
Warren was 4th in the Irish Open at Baltray in 2009, when it was played at a links venue and conditions were quite difficult and he has proven his prowess on coastal links venues with a 3rd place in the Scottish Open last year and some prominent placing in the Dunhill Links Championship, such as 5th in 2011. He has also shown excellent form at venues such as Doha Golf Club (2nd in the Qatar Masters this year) and in the Open De Espana in 2013, when he really should have won his first event for 6 years, but for imploding at the end of his round on Sunday. He addressed this when taking the Made in Denmark last year and he has continually climbed the rankings since then, sitting now at 59, with a coveted place in the Top 50 in his sights.
Warren has been in steady form since he was 2nd in the Qatar Masters and he has produced finishes of 13th in Dubai, 9th in Malaysia and an excellent 17th in the WGC Cadillac Championship at Trump Doral after he started with rounds of 73-75, but finished strongly on a very difficult course in blustery conditions, shooting 69 and 72 over the weekend. He warmed up for this week with an 18th place at Wentworth, where he was struggling from tee to green, but produced an excellent display on the greens.
He now tackles this venue for the first time and it looks like it should suit him very well. He is of interest in a number of markets, but for the purposes of this preview, we will select him at 50/1 each way with Betfred and Paddy Power.
Our other picks are generally in the subsidiary markets, although we will play in running once we see how the venue is playing on Thursday.
Anthony Wall is our second selection, even though he has cooled off a bit after a very solid start to the season. He has missed the last two cuts, but prior to that he had bounced back from injury very well this year with results such as 12th in Abu Dhabi, 2nd in the Joburg Open, 14th in the Trophee Hassan which can be wind affected and plays like a links venue in certain parts and 11th in the Shenzhen International.
What makes Wall appeal is that he has some really outstanding form on links courses and wind affected venues. He was 10th in Baltray in 2009 and he bettered this with a runner up finish at Royal Portrush in 2012. His other results include a 2nd and 5th in the Dunhill Links Championship, even if we have to go back a few years for these results, 11th in the Open Championship itself in 2006, along with excellent finishes of 2nd at the Volvo Masters in the past at Valderrama, runner up in the Sicilian Open and some other solid displays in Qatar. All of these venues share a common thread of being wind affected and technical courses, while he has also been 5th in the Irish Open in 2006 and 10th in 2008, making his form in this event as solid as nearly anyone in the field. He has proven his liking for playing in Ireland with a 2nd in the European Open in 2006 and 3rd place in 2007, so there is clearly something about playing here that inspires him.
Much of what is written above refers to a few years ago, but as can be seen from this year's results, he is more than capable of contending in strong fields when he is playing near his peak. His stats back this up and prove that he should be very much suited by the demands of this venue, given that he ranks 28th in Driving Accuracy and 9th in Scrambling. He is also 38th in Putts Per GIR and 27th in Putts Per Round and if he can put it all together, he could have a very big week.
His each way odds are 250/1 and we will advise a small interest in that, even though we have played at 600+ on Betfair in the win market, with a view to trading. In addition he makes more appeal at 20/1 for a Top 10 finish and 17/2 for a Top 20 finish.
Our remaining bets are likely to be in running as we have missed the early 70/1 about Alex Noren and some others that have been highlighted by pundits already this week. However Paddy Power seem to be making a mistake in that they have priced Noren at 40/1 in the outright but retain him at 50/1 in the without McIlroy market. This is worth an interest if the price holds for long enough to avail of it.