What a final round we had at Crans. As much of the early play suggested at a possible brother vs brother showdown between overnight leader, Matt Fitzpatrick and brother Alex, it was one of the most talked about golfers of the moment, Sweden’s elite-level ball-striker, Ludvig Aberg, who came through with a sensational finish to not only earn his first pro title but stamp his place firmly on that European Ryder Cup side at the end of September.
With both teams now set, the excitement towards the 2023 Ryder Cup at Marco Simone in Rome will build and build over the coming weeks, as the DP World Tour treats us to a trio of events played on former Ryder Cup venues.
We have the tour’s flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth to come next week, followed by the Open de France at Le Golf National the week prior to the Ryder Cup. First, it’s to Ireland for the Irish Open this week, as the event returns to the K Club for the first time since Rory McIlroy’s memorable victory in 2016.
Having had its first staging in 1927, the Irish Open is one of the oldest national championships still in existence. It took place regularly throughout the 1930s and 40s, however it was cancelled after the 1953 edition and only returned to the DP World Tour schedule in 1975; becoming a constant on the tour ever since.
Many stars have lifted this trophy and it’s a particularly star-studded quartet of players who share the honour of having won the Irish Open on the most occasions; Seve Ballesteros (1983, 1985, 1986), Sir Nick Faldo (1991, 1992, 1993), Bernhard Langer (1984, 1987, 1994) and Colin Montgomerie (1995, 1996, 2001) all locked together on three wins apiece.
The likes of Ian Woosnam (1988, 1989) and Sam Torrance (1981, 1995) are two-time winners. A list that was most recently added to by Jon Rahm, with wins in 2017 and 2019.
Poland’s Adrian Meronk is this week’s defending champion, having produced a commanding performance to see off Ryan Fox by three strokes last year; where the event’s two-year stint at Mount Juliet came to an end.
It will be intriguing to see how the Pole performs this week after being incredibly unlucky to narrowly miss out on a Ryder Cup spot, despite having three wins in a little over twelve months on tour; including at this year’s Ryder Cup venue earlier this year.
The Irish Open has enjoyed a largely nomadic life over the last thirty or so years, rarely staying at the same course for longer than a couple of years. It returns to the K Club’s North Course this week – which is set to also host the event in 2025 and 2027 – for only the second time following Rory’s emphatic win in 2016.
However, this is not the only time we have seen the K Club host a big event, as in 2006 it was the stage of Europe’s unforgettable 18 ½ – 9 ½ win over the U.S in the Ryder Cup – equalling their biggest ever margin of victory in the event – and had previously hosted the European Open on the DP World Tour; nine times between 1995 and 2003 and again in 2005.
Opening in 1991 and designed by Arnold Palmer, the K Club’s North Course is an American-style, tree-lined resort course and will this week play as a 7350-yard par 72 – the same yardage it played in 2016.
Water is the most prominent feature at the course, with the River Liffey snaking throughout the property and helping bring water in-play on fourteen holes. This plays a sizeable part of the challenging scoring here at previous events.
Over the ten tournaments that have been staged at this course, right from the first European Open in 1995 to that 2016 Irish Open, the event has averaged a winning score of -12.2. The most recent evidence came in 2016, which showed that the course had lost none of that difficulty, as McIlroy won with a score of -12. Although, seven years is a long time in golf and it will be interesting to see if the course still proves as challenging.
The course offers variety throughout, with gentle elevation changes and holes that dogleg in both directions. Though there is plenty of room off-the-tee, some of the fairways are pretty tight and with thick rough awaiting, it’s a course at which I feel you need to drive the ball well.
This variety continues onto the slick, undulating putting surfaces, where a couple of reasonably small greens are outweighed by generally large – sometimes huge – ones. Many are multi-tiered and crowned, protected by large and intimidating bunkers; some of which are dangerously deep. With shaved run-offs acting as a further repellent, it is notable that despite the size of some of the greens, they did prove very tough to find in 2016.
On paper, the course is gettable. The four par 5s – three of which come on your back 9, including two on the final three holes (16 & 18) – should be reachable for most, ranging in distance from 537-584 yards. None of the par 4s are monstrous, with eight coming at under 450 yards and six at 430 or below; whilst of the four par 3s, three are under 185 yards.
However, the constant threat of the water makes this a true risk/reward course and though with some quality ball-striking you are only usually one hole away from creating yourself a decent birdie look, you are equally just one small error away from adding a big number to the scorecard.
- SG: Approach
- SG: Off-the-Tee
- Par 5 Scoring
I think there’s little to be gained from delving too deeply into events that are around or over twenty years old, whilst we only have the benefit of basic stats from that most recent event staged here in 2016. However they do point to a need for strong ball-striking, which backs up my feeling of the course.
Rory is an elite player that does practically everything well but as we know, he’s at his best with driver. He led the field in GIR when he won there; Russell Knox in 2nd ranked 4th and Matthew Southgate in 4th ranked 12th.
Both of those latter two players are good ball-strikers, or at least they were at the time of this performance. Whilst Bradley Dredge – who also finished 2nd alongside Knox – is a player who often shone with his iron play.
As mentioned, despite the size, these greens proved tough to hit back in 2016 and therefore a decent scrambling ability will need to be displayed over the course of the week.
Finally, with two coming over the final three holes, the par 5s will have a large bearing on where this trophy ends up come Sunday afternoon. Therefore, those who score best on those holes should fancy their chances of a hotter finish than many.
Though we’ve only had one event here in eighteen years, there are a number of routes we can go down to link this week’s event to others.
As previous Ryder Cup venues, it’s of little surprise that the Wales/Cazoo Open at Celtic Manor and Open de France at Le Golf National showed plenty of form-ties with that 2016 leaderboard.
Richard Sterne and Gregory Bourdy both finished top 10 there and have won in Wales, whilst runner-up, Bradley Dredge has finished 2nd. Eddie Pepperell, Jamie Donaldson and James Morrison each have top 5s in Wales and finished top 10 at the K Club in 2016. Bourdy and Sterne have both also gone well in France – Sterne a runner-up and Bourdy a best of 6th.
2016 Irish Open runner-up, Russell Knox is another with a 2nd-place finish at Le Golf National; Thorbjorn Olesen and James Morrison – who both finished top 10 here in 2016 – have too finished 2nd in France.
Two English courses which have likewise hosted the Ryder Cup are Wentworth, which hosts the BMW PGA Championship and the current British Masters host, The Belfry’s Brabazon Course. Both have many similarities with this week’s venue, as tree-lined courses with water in-play and lots of risk/reward chances, whilst I also like the two late par 5s that players are tasked with taking on at Wentworth.
Finally, a duo of watery resort courses also worth considering are the Portugal Masters host, Dom Pedro Victoria and the Czech Masters at Albatross Golf Resort.
Dom Pedro Victoria has been a staple of the DP World Tour since 2007 and though more exposed it is a typically big resort course that happens to be designed by Arnold Palmer. Meanwhile, the Czech Masters had a number of notable form-ties with that 2016 Irish Open leaderboard, with Bradley Dredge a previous Czech runner up; wins for Max Kieffer and Jamie Donaldson – who finished 5th and 10th at the K Club in 2016 respectively – strengthen this potential link.
Conditions are set be pretty pleasant this week with warm temperatures and little in the way of rain forecast. Winds should be mild for the most part but could gust at up to 20mph, which may cause some problems.
Rory McIlroy returns to the Irish Open this week after having missed the 2022 renewal and to the scene of his one-and-only win at the event in 2016. The world #2 heads a strong field, with a further seven from inside the world’s top 50 in attendance; including Shane Lowry – who won this event in 2009 as an amateur – and Australia’s Adam Scott makes his first Irish Open appearance in over twenty years, having last played the event in 2002.
McIlroy and Lowry are two of three players from the European Ryder Cup team set to tee it up, joined by Tyrrell Hatton. Adrian Meronk is a man I expected to be on that team; he defends and may play like a man with a point to prove after missing out on selection earlier today.
Other entrants of interest include the American duo of Billy Horschel and Tom Hoge; Sweden’s Vincent Norrman makes his first start in Europe this year and Australia’s Min Woo Lee is back in action following six-week absence.
Rory is a very strong favourite at 18/5 and it’s hard to envisage him not being involved at the business end of this week’s event, but he’s no kind of price to even tempt me to get involved.
Tyrrell Hatton is an almost equally strong second favourite at 9/1, with question marks over many at the top of the betting. Though with this, I think there’s a little value further down and with him turning the corner on his two most recent starts after what has been a difficult year, I’m taking Billy Horschel to have a strong week in Ireland.
1.5 pts Billy Horschel each way (1/5 – 8 places) – 35/1
Horschel had a successful 2022 campaign, producing multiple contending performances which includes claiming a seventh PGA Tour title in the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village. However, 2023 has been a different story.
During the off-season at the end of last year, Horschel had been working on some swing changes that he hoped would propel him into Ryder Cup and major championship contention but they had the opposite effect. He abandoned these changes early in the year but has struggled to regain his prior form.
As a result, he is currently enduring the worst ball-striking year of his career, which, prior to his two most recent starts, saw him miss nine cuts in his first seventeen starts of the year and achieve a best stroke-play performance of 32nd in the Phoenix Open.
Reversing the swing changes started to show some positive signs when he finished 43rd in the US Open six starts ago, gaining strokes in both approach and off-the-tee and over his last couple of starts we’ve finally seen performances much more like it from the Floridian.
Horschel drove the ball well when 13th at the 3M Open two starts ago, ranking 6th in the field OTT and followed that with a 4th in the Wyndham Championship the following week on his latest start, ranking inside the top 15 in both approach and with the driver; his iron display the best performance he’s produced this year.
He’s had a few weeks off following that performance but seemed to be in much more confident mood when we last heard from him and back over in Europe, where he has some good memories, I’m expecting him to go well this week.
The best of those European memories undoubtedly came at Wentworth in 2021, as Horschel lifted the trophy to become the first American winner of the BMW PGA Championship since Arnold Palmer in 1975.
Of course, this link with Palmer carries over to the legend’s course this week and he does have previous on Arnold Palmer designs, having finished 2nd at Bay Hill in the Arnold Palmer Invitational last year. With his confidence and game now returning I think he looks well priced for a big effort at the K Club.
1.5 pts Ryan Fox each way (1/5 – 8 places) – 35/1
Ryan Fox is another man returning after a few weeks off but he’s shown on more than one occasion he can play well fresh and with an excellent record in Ireland, I’m taking him to come back firing this week.
Fox has spent much of this year taking advantage of his Special Temporary Membership on the PGA Tour and has performed with a good amount of credit. In twelve starts on the tour he’s missed just two cuts and recorded five top 25 finishes, including a 12th in the Scottish Open and 14th in the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
He’s shown quality in every area of his game this year, something we’ve become accustomed to seeing on the DP World Tour over recent years; with him coming off a superb year in approach last year, ranking 4th on the tour. Additionally, he’s a player that eats up the par 5s.
Fox was still plying his trade on the Challenge Tour when this event came to the K Club in 2016, a year in which he won the Northern Ireland Open. That win is part of a superb record for him across the Irish Sea, with him twice finishing 2nd in this event – including last year – and a 4th-place finish makes it three top 5s.
He clearly has an affinity with playing golf in this small part of the world and with top 10s in France and at The Belfry a boost for his chances of contending on this setup, I’m expecting the three-time DPWT winner to make a bold bid for win number four this week.
1.25 pts Thorbjorn Olesen each way (1/5 – 8 places) – 45/1
Thorbjorn Olesen didn’t quite live up to my expectations in Crans last week, finishing 40th. However, he hit the ball well there, ranking 1st in greens-in-regulation and with his short-game struggles there easy enough to be put down to a mere blip, I’m expecting him to respond positively this week.
After some off-the-course issues in prior years, the talented Dane has come back strongly in the last two years, following his win in last year’s British Masters with a victory in the Thailand Classic on the DPWT earlier this year. He’s maintained a good level of form following that win in the Far East, as he entered last week with three top 25s in his last five starts before his 40th in Switzerland.
The strong ball-striking performance of last week was what we’ve become to expect of Olesen this year, as he ranks 8th in approach, 14th in GIR and 35th OTT in 2023. Whilst he’s also a top 50 scorer on the par 5s.
He was 10th here in 2016, as he signed off his week with a 6-under 66 – the 3rd-best round of the week. As a past winner at The Belfry, possessing finishes of 2nd and 3rd in France and a 5th in the Czech Masters, his correlating form is strong too; a 7th in the Arnold Palmer Invitational in 2013 is another handy piece of form.
Olesen’s win in Thailand was his seventh on the DP World Tour, making him one of the more experienced winners in the field and with his ball-striking showing no signs of declining, he’s well worth giving another try here.
1.25 pts Matt Wallace each way (1/5 – 6 places) – 45/1
Matt Wallace was excellent when an unlucky 2nd in the Czech Masters two weeks ago. He followed with a solid 24th last week in the European Masters and he can rely on his quality ball-striking to continue his good form this week.
Wallace entered the Czech Masters without a top 25 to his name following gaining a first PGA Tour win in the Corales Puntacana in March this year. However he’d been showing significant improvements in his ball-striking in the weeks leading up to that, which he put to good use at Albatross Golf Resort.
He ranked 8th in approach and 13th off-the-tee there, with his strength around-the-greens leading to him ranking as the best tee-to-green player in the field. He again drove it well last week at Crans, ranking 13th and though the approach play wasn’t quite up to the same level as the previous week, he still produced positive numbers.
Wallace burst onto the scene a little too late to have played here in 2016, though he does have some good form at comp courses, with his 2nd in the Czech Republic complimented by top 10s in Wales and in Portugal. That top 10 in Portugal isn’t the only bit of Arnold Palmer course form he has, as he regularly plays well at Bay Hill in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, recording a finish of 6th along with two further top 25s in just his four visits.
The Englishman often steps up his form when heading back over to Europe and with this course likely to suit, I see no reason for him to not continue that recent run this week.
1 pt Guido Migliozzi each way (1/5 – 6 places) – 90/1
Guido Migliozzi was one of, if not the main hope for a home player at this year’s Ryder Cup. Though the precocious talent couldn’t quite kick on following his exhilarating win in the Open de France last year to put himself into the conversation, his performances of late have been eye-catching and he enters the week after an action-packed 13th in the European Masters last week.
That performance at Crans was typically Migliozzi; two sluggish rounds of 72 in round one and 71 in round three were each followed with two of the best rounds by anyone for the entire week.
Migliozzi shot the best round of his career in round two, with a 9-under 61 and finished the week with a 7-under 63 which included three bogeys and saw him finish the event by shooting -6 for his last five holes. Leaving him as the 3rd-best birdie maker for the week.
Signs of this type of form have been bubbling for the Italian, as he’s made each of his last six cuts and was 10th in the BMW International Open six starts ago. Following that with a 28th in the British Masters; an event in which he was tied for the lead entering the final round, before a shocking start in round 4 saw him shoot 77 to drop down twenty-seven spots on the leaderboard.
It’s been a positive to see him get the driver under control over these starts; an area in which he ranks 20th on the DPWT this season, whilst he’s also been scrambling solidly and starting to find more greens.
Migliozzi hasn’t played here before but his win in France last year is a big plus, whilst a 2nd in the 2021 British Masters provides some additional encouragement. If he can finally put the four rounds together, he would be a danger this week.