Golf Preview: Irish Open & The Greenbrier Classic

This week is very much seen as a build-up to The Open later this month, as treasured qualifying spots are available on both sides of the Atlantic.

At Portstewart – the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation, to give the tournament its correct title, boasts one of the best fields in Europe anywhere this season.

As well as hosting – McIlroy is also the defending champion after his win at The K Club last year but he is not the highest ranking golfer on show as Japanese superstar Hideki Matsuyama

Matsuyama will make his regular European Tour debut and will be teeing up with McIlroy ond Jon Rahm in a mourthwatering three-ball over the opening two rounds.

And the Northern Irishman is delighted to have him playing; “He is very diligent around his practice as he works very hard at it.

“The thing I also like about Hideki is that he is aggressive as you only have to look at some of the shots he hits and the pins he will take in during competition.

“So, all aspects of his game are very strong and he is very impressive.”

Matsuyama admitted he was coming to Portstewart to help for The Open at Royal Birkdale in little over two weeks.

“It is important to play some links golf ahead of The Open Championship and I’m sure Portstewart will be the perfect preparation for me,” he said.

“I know Rory puts a lot into this tournament and he has done an incredible job raising its profile. I’m really excited and I know it will be a great week.”

The home fans could very well have plenty to cheer with a host of Irishmen competing including Graeme McDowell, Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke and Shane Lowry.

McDowell has a lot to play for at a course he grew up close to, and needs to claim one of the three qualifying spots on offer if he wants to be at Birkdale.

“Portstewart is a golf course that I played a lot as a kid. We used to play a lot of our school’s matches here and I’ve got a lot of good memories.”

And open qualifying is also on the mind of the golfers at the Old White TPC in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia where they are competing in the Greenbrier Classic.

One of the newest tournaments on the PGA Tour, it has only be running since 2010

The top four finishers this week who are not already exempt into The Open (and who finish among the top 12 at The Greenbrier) will earn spots into the year’s third major.

Last week, Kyle Stanley, Charles Howell III, Martin Laird and Sung Kang earned spots in The Open with their finishes at the Quicken Loans National. One final spot will be available at next week’s John Deere Classic.

Australian Danny Lee is the defending champion and he is feeling in good shape to reclaim his crown.

“it’s definitely getting better. I feel more comfortable with my game. Right now I feel very comfortable about it. Especially my putting and my iron game has been really good,” Lee said.

The pro’s point of view…

Our resident golf expert is Cliff Jackson. Cliff is a leading youth coach and PGA professional at the famed Seaton Carew Links – one of the oldest courses in the world.

Tommy Fleetwood came good last week, he will go well again but I fancy a home success and if not Rory – I think Graeme McDowell could do some damage.

In America, I think the Kevin Kisner will do well and but hard not to go with my man Patrick Reed.

The Bookie says…

We caught up with BetVictor’s Jack Milner – an expert in the golfing markets

McIlroy is the 6/1 favourite with BetVictor, and heads the market alongside Japan’s Hideko Matsyuyma, Spanish sensation John Rahm and Masters runner-up Justin Rose.

The latter trio are opposable at the current prices of 10/1, 14s and 14s with last year’s French Open form perhaps under-valued just 7 days on. Tommy Fleetwood’s final round 68 sealed a terrific success at the inaugural Rolex Series event, and he is a fair price at 14/1 to go back-to-back across the Irish Sea.

Fleetwood entered the final round one shot behind leaders Peter Uhlein and Alexander Bjork and was the 4/1 joint-favourite alongside Belgian ace Thomas Pieters. The latter double-bogeyed the opening hole, and so again at both the 16 and 18 holes but should be well-suited to the conditions at Portstewart and is a fair price at 22/1 and six places to each-way punters.

Of the natives, Shane Lowry has been well-backed to emulate his 2009 success as an amateur but it too skinny at 28/1 after missing the cut last week in France. Compatriot Padraig Harrington offers punters much better value at 66/1 after getting a clean bill of health. Despite being 45 years of age, Harrington is a twice runner-up at the event, and thrives on links courses. The Dubliner, twice a Claret Jug winner, has progressed on all three starts on the PGA Tour and should go close on his return home.

Kevin Kisner is second favourite for the Greenbrier Classic and will be popular for one of the PGA Tour’s most historic evens. Kisner has been a model of consistency this season, winning the Dean and Deluca Invitational, and is inside the top-50 for both ‘driving accuracy’ and ‘greens in regulation’ – two important components around this par-70 course.

He is opposable at around the 14s mark however, with Russel Henley offering much more appeal at treble the price. Henley, already a winner on tour this season, ranks 54 in accuracy off-the-tee and, perhaps more importantly, is 24th on tour in GIR. He missed the cut last week but was the halfway leader back in 2013 and arrives in better form than his price suggests.

Providing his short-game improves then Graham De Laet is now 66/1 shot but has had to battle with the yips when it comes to his chipping and putting. Bryson Dechambeau has cult following that has seen him backed into 50s from 80s already but a man friendless in the betting is big-hitting Luke List who should give punters a run for their money at 125/1.




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