The Irish Open begins on Independence Day but you won’t find too many Americans celebrating at Lahinch Golf Club. Most of the big names from the PGA Tour are still concentrating on their golf stateside in the lead up to the Open Championship which leaves some of the best European Tour golfers to compete in this Rolex Series event.
Russell Knox feels that he belongs in the conversation when talking about the best European golfers but often struggles for attention given he spends so much of his time in America. Still, he is committed to the European Tour and loves playing links golf so Knox is ready to put in a strong defence of the title he won last year at Ballyliffin.
The Irish Open got a real shot in the arm when the Rory McIlroy Foundation took over hosting duties. Although they no longer support the event, it remains a nomadic tournament which takes in some of the best golf courses Ireland has to offer.
Lahinch Golf Club is right up there with the best Irish courses. It’s as true a test of links golf as you could hope to find and has even been described as the ‘St Andrews of Ireland’. The original design for Lahinch was done by Old Tom Morris, one of St Andrews’ most famous sons, and although it’s been tweaked over the years the 7,036 yard par 70 layout retains that classical links feel.
The players will have to cope with undulating fairways, a host of tricky bunkers and the challenge of hitting accurate approach shots into large greens. The course has also been switched from a par 72 with two holes which play as par fives for the members turned into par fours so a certain amount of power off the tee could come in handy. In general though, scoring well at Lahinch requires a controlled game from tee to green, whilst excellent short game skills are an advantage.
|Lahinch Golf Club||County Clare, Ireland||7,036 Yards||$7,000,000|
The list of recent Irish Open winners reflects the strengthening of the tournament since 2015. The roving nature of the tournament means that each winner required very different styles of golf to win. Soren Kjeldsen dealt with tough conditions best at Royal County Down, Rory McIlroy used his power to pull away from the field on the final day at the K Club, Jon Rahm surprised even himself by scoring so well on the Portstewart links and Russell Knox utilised his links experience to win at Ballyliffin in a playoff.
|Year||Winner||Course||To Par||Winning Margin|
|2017||Jon Rahm||Portstewart||-24||6 Strokes|
|2016||Rory McIlroy||The K Club||-12||3 Strokes|
|2015||Soren Kjeldsen||Royal County Down||-3||2 Strokes|
|2014||Mikko Ilonen||Fota Island||-13||1 Stroke|
Analysis: Scoring Could be Very Good
As with most links golf courses, the difficulty of Lahinch is dictated by a large degree by the weather. Thankfully for those competing this week but perhaps disappointingly for the fans watching on from home, the weather forecast is for middling temperatures, not much wind and next to no rain. Scoring well at Lahinch will still require a certain amount of control off the tee, imagination with approach shots and confident putting but it’s by no means going to play at its toughest.
The winner this week will likely either be somebody with plenty of links golf experience who manages to navigate their way around Lahinch with no fuss and takes their chances on the big greens, or a powerful player who quickly gets to grips with the right lines to take at the course. Either way, it will surely require a lot of birdies coupled with some excellent par saves.
Knox Primed for Defence
The news that Rory McIlroy will not be in attendance at this year’s Irish Open did not go down too well. He has decided to focus solely on the PGA Tour but that’s thankfully not a decision made by every top class European golfer. Russell Knox has been based in America for many years now but he has committed to competing on both sides of the Atlantic and why wouldn’t you given his recent results on the European Tour?
Knox picked up his second European Tour win at this tournament last year and pushed McIlroy all the way at the K Club in 2016. He has bags of links golf experience having grown up in Scotland and loves the chance to play on a course which does not demand huge power.
With the caveat that he’ll have to cope with extra media duties as the defending champion, Knox could actually fly a little under the radar this week. His recent form is decent enough and he should come to life at Lahinch where he is well priced at 40/1 with Betfred.
Sullivan Finding His Game Again
Andy Sullivan was one of the notables towards the top of the final leaderboard at Valderrama last weekend. The Englishman has found his best golf elusive over the last year or so but is finally feeling good about the state of his game. The way that he navigated a tricky course in Spain will only give him more confidence.
Although he hasn’t had to worry about qualifying for the Open due to his finish in the top 30 of last year’s Race to Dubai, Sullivan is keen to have a real crack at the Claret Jug at Portrush. In that regard, a strong showing at a traditional links course will do him the power of good and that’s well in Sullivan’s capabilities so back him each way at 80/1 with Coral.
Final Verdict: Russell Knox Each Way
Russell Knox is a links golf specialist who always makes time for this current run of European Tour events in his schedule. He’s played very well at the Irish Open before including winning the tournament last year and is the sort of intelligent golfer who can quickly get to grips with a new course, so his price of 40/1 with Betfred looks very good value for an each way bet.
About the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open
The Dubai Duty Free Irish Open is a tournament on the European Tour, which takes place annually in Ireland. The event has been played in various locations across Ireland over the years, including Dublin, Cork, Antrim, Limerick and Donegal.
The first Irish Open took place at Portmarnock way back in 1927. George Duncan was the first winner, beating runner-up Henry Cotton to the trophy by just a single stroke. The Carroll’s Irish Open in 1975 was the first to be held on the European Tour. Since 2017, the Irish Open has been one of the Rolex Series events. In recent years, the tournament has been one of the Open Qualifying Series, with qualification for The Open Championship up for grabs.
Portmarnock the Spiritual Home of the Irish Open
As mentioned, the Irish Open has had several homes over the years. In fact, 20 different venues have hosted Ireland’s grandest golfing event. However, Portmarnock Golf Club in Dublin has held the competition a record 19 times, including the very first back in 1927.
Portmarnock, which is located 15 minutes from Dublin airport, last hosted the event in 2003. After becoming part of the European Tour in 1975, Portmarnock Golf Club was the Irish Open’s course from 1976 to 1982 before Royal Dublin took over for three years.
Portmarnock has a deep history with the Irish Open, especially while it was sponsored by Carroll’s tobacco company from 1975 to 1993, during which period it hosted 12 of the 19 events. Rory McIlroy once said, “I always love playing at Portmarnock Golf Club; one of the world’s greatest links courses in my view.” Several other top golfers have commended the course over the years.
As mentioned, the last Irish Open tournament to be held at Portmarnock was in 2003. Back then, New Zealander Michael Campbell beat Thomas Bjorn and Peter Hedblom in a playoff to bag himself €300,000 in prize money.
Here are all the winners of the Irish Open when it’s been played at Portmarnock:
|Year at Portmarnock||Winner|
|1927||George Duncan (Scotland)|
|1929||Abe Mitchell (England)|
|1934||Syd Easterbrook (England)|
|1938||Bobby Locke (South Africa)|
|1946||Fred Daly (Northern Ireland)|
|1948||Dai Rees (Wales)|
|1976||Ben Crenshaw (USA)|
|1977||Hubert Green (USA)|
|1978||Ken Brown (Scotland)|
|1979||Mark James (England)|
|1980||Mark James (England)|
|1981||Sam Torrance (Scotland)|
|1982||John O’Leary (Ireland)|
|1986||Seve Ballesteros (Spain)|
|1987||Bernhard Langer (Germany)|
|1988||Ian Woosnam (Wales)|
|1989||Ian Woosnam (Wales)|
|1990||Jose Maria Olazabal (Spain)|
|2003||Michael Campbell (New Zealand)|
Dubai Duty Free the Current Sponsor
Over the years, the Irish Open has had various sponsors. From 2015 to 2018, it was called the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation. In May 2018, Dubai Duty Free extended their sponsorship of the Irish Open until 2022.
The first sponsor was Carroll’s, who sponsored the tournament from 1975 to 1993. Since then Murphy’s Brewery, Nissan the car maker, the Three mobile brand, and Discover Ireland have all sponsored Ireland’s main event.
Montgomerie, Langer, Faldo & Ballesteros Tied on Three
The Irish Open has served up a number of notable winners since George Duncan won the first back in the 20s. The last tournament (2019) was won by Spaniard Jon Rahm, which was his second Irish Open victory after winning two years prior to that. Also, Rory McIlroy’s one and only Irish Open triumph came in 2016, when he won by three strokes.
Four players have won this tournament on three occasions, each holding the joint lead in the list of multiple winners. Brits Colin Montgomerie and Nick Faldo have three wins to their name, while German Bernhard Langer and the late Seve Ballesteros from Spain have also won the Irish Open three times.
Lowry’s Memorable Win as an Amateur
Only five players from Ireland have won the Irish Open. The first of those was Harry Bradshaw in 1947 (then again in 1949), followed by Christy O’Connor Jnr, John O’Leary and Padraig Harrington.
However, it was Shane Lowry’s memorable win as an amateur back in 2009 that certainly tops the lot. Lowry defied the odds to beat England’s Robert Rock in a playoff at County Louth Golf Club. The pair were tied with 271 strokes 17 under par, but Lowry went on to beat professional Rock in the playoff. It was a memorable moment for County Westmeath-born Lowry and for the Irish Open in general.
Two years before Lowry’s success, Padraig Harrington became the first home Irish Open winner for 25 years, since Christy O’Connor won the first European Tour Irish Open in 1975. Harrington beat Welshman Bradley Dredge in a playoff in 2007.
Finch’s Famous Fall
The Irish Open has produced plenty of thrills and spills, but Richard Finch’s fall into water in 2008 will always be a highlight. Usually, the golf does the talking in the big events, but Finch’s infamous fall will go down in history.
Finch went for the green with a tricky shot, but the Englishman tumbled into the nearby water, leading to worldwide media coverage. Incredibly, Finch dusted himself down and went on to win the tournament. It was certainly an Irish Open moment to remember.