Rory McIlroy Previously Won The Irish Open in 2016
The fourth Rolex Series event of the year takes centre stage on the European Tour from Thursday as the Irish Open heads to the Ballyliffin Golf Club in County Donegal and the €7m prize purse has attracted a strong field. Rory McIlroy holds a close association with an event that is hosted by the Rory Foundation and he is joined on the stunning Glashedy Links by Jon Rahm, Thorbjorn Olesen and home favourite Shane Lowry. We take a look at five of the leading contenders for glory…
McIlroy pushed hard for the Irish Open to be held at Ballyliffin this year and this will a big moment for the resort as its ‘Old Course’ previously hosted the 2008 Irish Senior Open, although it is the venue’s Pat Ruddy-designed Glashedy Links which will be the scene of this week’s tournament. Opened in 1995, Glashedy has been lengthened to a massive 7,462 yards for the Irish Open and it is a course that should suit the power of McIlroy, who will be looking to find some form ahead of The Open Championship in two weeks’ time.
The Northern Irishman does have something to prove though as he has a mixed record of results at the Irish Open, missing the cut on four occasions in the previous five years. The one year he actually made the weekend was when he won the title in 2016.
The lengthy course should play to the strengths of Jon Rahm too and the Spaniard returns as defending champion after claiming his maiden European Tour title with a six-stroke victory at Portstewart in 2017. The world number five has already won a couple of events – the Career Builder Challenge and Open de Espana – during a stunning 2018 campaign and he warmed up for a trip to Ireland with a tie for 5th in France last time out.
McIlroy and Rahm can start looking forward to the Ryder Cup, although several other European hopefuls are still looking to secure their place in the team. Points gained from all events taking place from last month’s BMW PGA Championship up to the Made In Denmark in August are multiplied by 1.5 and that ensures there is an added incentive for a few players in this week’s field.
Thorbjorn Olesen is looking to win a second Rolex Series event of the year after taking the Italian Open title and the big-hitting Dane did tie for 2nd at the BMW International Open recently, although he missed the cut in France.
Thomas Pieters secured his place in the European Ryder Cup team of 2016 with a late surge of form and he could do with a similar purple patch this season. The Belgian went on to finish as Europe’s top points scorer in a losing cause two years ago, although he has endured a tough 2018 campaign and he has missed three cuts in a row at the Irish Open.
Finally, Shane Lowry will be worth watching this week. He was an extremely popular winner of the 2009 Irish Open as an amateur and he can bank on plenty of home support from the crowds at Ballyliffin, where he played several Inter-provincial Championships during his younger days. The Irishman has spent the first part of the year playing some consistent golf on the PGA Tour and he is looking forward to an extended spell in Europe, starting with a decent tie for 16th in France.