THE bookmakers believe it’s going to be all about the home contingent at Killarney this week but there is so much talent in the 150-strong 3 Irish Open field that such a desirable outcome is not a certainty.
True, it is impossible not to regard Rory McIlroy, the clear 7/1 favourite, as a very likely champion with Graeme McDowell, Pádraig Harrington, Darren Clarke and holder Shane Lowry also among the hotly fancied competitors in the €3m event. But it would be equally misguided to overlook the chances of Justin Rose, the Englishman who has won twice on the USPGA Tour this year, or in-form Italian Francesco Molinari, to name but two.
There are those who fear the course will be torn apart due to the absence of any meaningful rough and the continuing calm weather. That may be the case and if conditions remain as they are, a total of 15 under par or even a couple of strokes better may be required to lift the first prize of €500,000 on Sunday.
But I believe that few courses nowadays are capable of withstanding the talents of these players once they get the measure of the place and have their putter in working order. McDowell went so far yesterday as to suggest that the European Tour’s first sub-60 round was in the offing. While many Killarney members would regard that as an insult to their golf course, it is as well to note Harrington’s words that “the better the condition of the course, the lower the scoring so that is normally a compliment’’.
Furthermore, and in spite of McDowell’s comments, a score in the 50s can be safely ruled out no matter how favourable the conditions. Somebody could manage 62 or 63 over any one of the four days and while the purists and some of the members may not like the sound of that, the majority of the anticipated 80,000 spectators will prefer to see the pros shooting birdies and eagles rather than struggling for pars.
So the scene has been set and the pros won’t disappoint. Rose has come with his sights set on a big win in Europe to complement those in the Memorial and the AT&T in the States and he’s been thrilled by the scene which greeted him.
“This is my first time in Killarney and there’s a great buzz about the place,” he said. “I didn’t know what to expect but I think it’s going to be a fun week. It’s a scoreable golf course but one you can’t force your hand on and a good game plan and strategy will be essential. To win back in Europe would be the icing on the cake. Winning is winning no matter where it comes and I don’t think it’s necessarily any easier to win in Europe or the States or in Asia.
“You still go through the same emotions and the same feelings down the stretch.”
It is inconceivable that a man who has won twice in the States this year won’t be a member of the European Ryder Cup team — either through automatic qualification or as one of captain Colin Montgomerie’s three picks.
Harrington finds himself on the other side of the spectrum but Rose stressed that the three times major champion should have nothing to worry about.
Rose said: “Pádraig, more than anybody, over the past 10 years has realised what’s important and that is getting better every single day, every single week. The love for the game and the work ethic never change, even when you’re a three-time major champion. And that’s what has never changed in him.”
Nevertheless, Harrington finds himself back in the betting on 16/1 behind Rory McIlroy 7/1, and Rose and Graeme McDowell, both 14/1. It’s a status that won’t worry the 2007 champion in the slightest although it remains to be seen how McIlroy reacts to his rating by the bookies.
“I’m the top-ranked player in this event and so I should be favourite,” was his very rational reaction last night. However, he also referred to “a nice little bit of added pressure to try and perform in front of the home crowd”.
He added: “If you play the par threes well and take advantage of the par 5s, all of which are reachable, then you’re going to have a good chance.”
McIlroy was one of Lowry’s most ardent supporters when he triumphed at Baltray last year and regards the Offaly man as “definitely a better player now than he was at last year’s Irish Open’’. McIlroy added: “He’s gained experience, he’s a more rounded player and more solid. I wouldn’t be surprised if he popped his head up on the leaderboard again this week.”
Then there’s Darren Clarke, another in great form at present and his sprits have been soared after his appointment as one of Europe’s Ryder Cup vice captains and the arrival late on Tuesday night of an invitation to play in the US PGA Championship in a couple of weeks time.
He is well capable of going one better than the second place he enjoyed in the recent Scottish Open.
Quite clearly, then, all the talk is of the home contingent and what they are capable of doing this week.
But be wary of the presence of the likes of Ross Fisher and Rhys Davies, to name but two, who still have their sights set on a Ryder Cup place.
Those players and many others as well are capable of shooting really low numbers and spoiling a potential Irish party.
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