Horizon Irish Open preview and best bets

Rory McIlroy is the headline act at the Irish Open, where our golf expert has a selection of each-way bets against the favourite.

Golf betting tips: Irish Open

2pts e.w. Billy Horschel at 35/1 (bet365, William Hill 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

1.5pts e.w. Thomas Detry at 40/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

1.5pts e.w. Jordan Smith at 45/1 (Paddy Power, Betfair 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

1.5pts e.w. Vincent Norrman at 50/1 (Paddy Power, Betfair 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

1pt e.w. Sebastian Soderberg at 200/1 (William Hill 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

0.5pt e.w. John Gough at 750/1 (bet365 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

Sky Bet odds | Paddy Power | Betfair Sportsbook

September is all about golf in Europe and after Monday’s Ryder Cup announcement, three members of the home team are in the field for the Irish Open before the whole squad gets together at Wentworth next week.

The Irish Open might not quite have its Rolex Series pizzazz at the moment but that’s a problem easily solved by the return of Rory McIlroy, who has done more than his share for the event down the years but has evidently felt that its summer slot didn’t always align with his Open Championship preparations.

Now it’s here, the precursor to Wentworth and then to the Ryder Cup in Rome, McIlroy returns alongside Tyrrell Hatton and Shane Lowry to add genuine star power and that’s just on the European side, with Adam Scott, Min Woo Lee and Billy Horschel adding an international flourish. And Tom Hoge, who presumably flew economy class.

While the timing explains McIlroy’s return, the course is the cherry on the cake. The K Club was, until recently, the scene of his most memorable finish as he sent a towering five-wood to the 18th green and holed the eagle putt. The leaderboard tells you McIlroy won by three but he’d been behind with three to play before closing it out with a moment of real magic, surpassed only by what happened in Scotland in July.

His brilliance is such that he’s an outlier in most analysis, but the way he won the tournament probably does give us some kind of clue. The K Club is no pushover and its par-fives need taking care of, McIlroy having managed to play 16 of them in 12-under and two of his closest pursuers not far behind, with so many stock par-fours in the 450-yard range that really need respecting.

He returns a 7/2 chance and I’m not sure anyone could’ve expected anything more. McIlroy is on a run of nine top-six finishes on the DP World Tour since last January, winning twice, and who knows how the FedEx Cup might’ve unfolded had his back not gone into spasm just before the final event began. Granted a clean bill of health, he’s going to be almost impossible to keep out of the places.

Hatton’s form this season has been very good but it’s two and a half years since his last win which is a bit of a nagging concern at 10/1, so with Lee absent since the Open it’s the home team who have it. Much has been said of Lowry’s malaise, which is absolutely not a malaise, but don’t be at all surprised if he steps up at a course he knows well having been on the wrong side of the draw back in 2016.

The other thing we must remember from that event is that the course was sodden, even more vulnerable to McIlroy’s driving than might have been the case. With so much water lurking and rough which is difficult to play out of, those with strong off-the-tee games should still be preferred in an event which is hard to unravel whichever way you look at it, despite a much drier run-up to the event.

Could Celtic clues help solve the puzzle?

One angle I am keen to pursue is form at Celtic Manor. The Brabazon could be a handy guide and there are other parkland courses which may also tell us something, but form at the 2010 Course is all over the 2016 leaderboard – subsequent Wales Open winner Callum Shinkwin, previous winner Gregory Bourdy, and others like Soren Kjeldsen, Richard Sterne, James Morrison and Eddie Pepperell.

Several of these are players who don’t always excel off the tee, but circumstances dictate and the K Club strikes me as one where driver won’t be called upon as often as it was in Prague a fortnight ago. You might therefore see stronger-than-usual driving performances from the likes of Alex Bjork, for instance, whereas someone like Niklas Norgaard might be somewhat shackled, but one way or another those who struggle from the tee will largely be found out.

JORDAN SMITH is one of the best drivers on the DP World Tour and his effectiveness reflects a blend of accuracy and power, unlike some of those who are inside the top 10 with him.

That looks a good starting point and so does the fact that he’s a metronomic hitter of greens, ranking first both this year and last. Smith is an out-and-out flusher who would’ve developed into a Ryder Cup candidate had he harnessed the putting touch discovered in Portugal last year.

As it is that club continues to hold him back but this relentless tee-to-green test gives him a fighting chance with a half decent week on the greens, a comment you could apply to the water-laden and difficult Green Eagle where he won in 2017. That’s among those parkland courses I think guides us, Matthew Southgate among those in the mix at both.

Celtic Manor form doesn’t leap off the page where Smith is concerned but he did contend there in the 2020 Wales Open and with three top-10s at Galgorm Castle also to his name, he’s certainly a player I think is best served by this sort of challenge. It’s partly why he took to Quail Hollow in the PGA Championship soon after that breakthrough win in Germany.

I also like the fact he’s fresher than some of those who’ve been involved in the last couple of DP World Tour events and the Ryder Cup battle that has coloured them, but not returning from six weeks away like Lee and Ryan Fox. Smith chose to shake off the rust in Crans, where he’d gone MC-MC previously, and 20th was an excellent way to do so.

We’ll have to see how he gets on with the putter but all six bogeys last week came about because of missed greens and he made a couple of nice putts late on Sunday. Build on that and one of the most reliable players on the circuit should be threatening the places at a nice each-way price, with 33/1 and bigger well worth taking.

Don’t underestimate Detry

I’ve written a number of times about the respect we have to afford those who’ve been playing on the PGA Tour, where competition is stronger, purses are larger, and finishing mid-pack can be an indication of someone ready to capitalise on a drop in grade.

Matt Wallace very nearly did before Ludvig Aberg’s sensational victory at Crans and I wonder whether THOMAS DETRY might be a big factor over the course of the next couple of weeks, starting here.

Detry’s rookie season on the PGA Tour was a real success built on a strong start and missing just four cuts, three of them narrowly, tells you how solid he’s been. It’s certainly fair to say it’s been the best year of his career, despite an absence of high-profile finishes, and he’s gained strokes in all departments.

Historically a strong putter, he’s improved his long-game of late and I’m convinced he has a title like this in him, even if we have to acknowledge that he was thoroughly disappointing when contending for the Soudal Open title on home soil back in the spring.

More recently, three rounds of 64 in his last four appearances are part of a collection of hints, including a big move throughout the middle rounds of the Open, a recovery job in the St Jude Championship, and strong starts to both the Scottish Open and the Wyndham in a run of eye-catching efforts.

No less appealing is his record at Celtic Manor, which shows second place followed by 12th from just two visits, and like Smith he’s been reliably excellent on the par-fives. These are stats that you should always approach with caution but both have been camped within the DP World Tour’s top 10 for two years now.

Detry’s Challenge Tour win came in England in runaway fashion and he came closest to winning at this level in Scotland, against top-class opponents, so with his game so close and the drop in grade in mind, this looks another good chance.

When he comes home he tends to produce these days, making his last dozen cuts, and this time last year he got off the plane and finished fifth at Wentworth. Something similar in this weaker field is well within his capabilities and winning might be, too.

Returning to the Ryder Cup and I did wonder whether 13th man Adrian Meronk might produce a defiant performance. It’s happened before across team events, most recently last year when Mackenzie Hughes was fuelled by his Presidents Cup rejection, but Meronk is entitled to be utterly drained and also has to play the role of defending champion.

Instead, I’ll buy into the idea that BILLY HORSCHEL‘s last two performances represent both strong form and evidence that he’s got his game back after a miserable stretch from January through to July.

Horschel’s swing changes left him in disarray for the first time in a decade and resulted in that tearful interview at the Memorial, where he was embarrassed by his title defence. But perhaps prompted by that low, he’s since reversed course and got back to basics, and it seems to be working.

Since missing the cut in the Open, which is about what you’d have expected, Horschel has been 13th and fourth in two decent PGA Tour events. Crucially, he ranked seventh and 17th in strokes-gained off the tee and from one to the next his approach play took a major step forward, too.

There’s a nagging doubt that the Wyndham Championship is an event in which he virtually always plays well, but he really does look to have turned a corner and I love the fact he ranked second in greens there. Down the years that statistical category, which might seem archaic nowadays, has so often told punters when to take him seriously.

Two years ago, Horschel found form after a poor summer, ranking third in greens at East Lake, then came over and won the BMW PGA Championship. He’d hit plenty of greens before his Match Play win earlier that year, as he had prior to a pairs win in the Zurich Classic, and his GIR figures during that golden FedEx Cup run almost a decade ago were 7-2-1.

Very much a ‘feels’ player, when Horschel finds something it tends to stick and I hope that the break since Sedgefield hasn’t changed anything. If that’s the case, it becomes difficult to argue with the idea that one of the most decorated players in the field is one of the very biggest threats to McIlroy.

More Swede success?

Sticking with the PGA Tour raiders theme, VINCENT NORRMAN makes plenty of appeal at 50/1, more than twice the odds at which he won the Barbasol Championship six or so weeks ago.

Now, this of course is a reflection of the depth of this field and the class at the top of it, but Norrman is a serious talent who should kick on from that performance in Kentucky.

He’ll no doubt have enjoyed seeing old national teammate Aberg capture the European Masters title and I’d certainly be of the view that this prodigious driver, among the best in the world with that club lately, has the potential to join Aberg on Ryder Cup teams of the future.

In the here and now, he hit the ball well enough to double up in the 3M Open only to putt poorly and settle for 25th, while both subsequent starts at a higher level saw him open with low first rounds only to stagnate a little on courses far less suitable on paper, including Southwind last time.

The K Club might be more his bag if driving the ball well proves vital again, and I won’t be alone in recalling the way he played at Celtic Manor right at the start of his pro career two years ago. Norrman was bang in the mix there until late on Saturday, when he completed a round of 77 before bouncing back to finish an admirable 10th.

We’ve not seen much of him on the DP World Tour but he produced four top-15s in a run of five events that summer, right out of the gates following his excellent amateur career, and some sensational ball-striking numbers were behind it. More of the same and he could make prices of 50/1 look very generous with 40s the lowest I’d go.

If you can manage another ropey putter than Adrian Otaegui, who suddenly looks hopeless from inside 10 feet, could be for you. His parkland record is excellent, he was 19th here in 2016 when struggling for form, and I quite liked Matt Cooper’s suggestion of Hanbury Manor as another interesting source of clues.

Denmark’s Thorbjorn Olesen could also bounce back after a quiet week at Crans but I’ll stick with the Swedes, who have an excellent record in this event and at the K Club for whatever that’s worth, and suggest SEBASTIAN SODERBERG next.

Although not the most reliable, Soderberg’s ceiling is much higher than his typical position in the market. He’s a winner at this level, beating McIlroy and others in a play-off in Switzerland, and is unfortunate not to have doubled up having been second on four subsequent occasions including behind Matt Fitzpatrick and Victor Perez.

One of those was at Yas Links in a Rolex Series event, further evidence that when he’s good he can be very good, and another was at the Belfry, when of course pipped by Olesen, who was 10th here in 2016. The courses certainly have a similar aesthetic and Olesen is far from the only player to have produced at both.

Fifth at the big-money Nedbank and 10th on the PGA Tour a few weeks ago, Soderberg has loads of upside and arrives in form, having gained 10.5 strokes with his ball-striking when 24th at Crans. Like Smith, his par-five stats are excellent and like Smith, his putter isn’t usually, but he does have big weeks in him in that department and they generally result in a suitably big cheque.

The kicker is that Soderberg contended on both previous starts at Celtic Manor, so combined with that Belfry effort and his propensity to hang tough against more decorated rivals, I can’t resist taking a chance at three-figure prices.

Take a chance on massive outsider

Masahiro Kawamura has two top-10s in three, Celtic Manor form and a rock-solid long-game despite an ugly swing and he’s respected along with Julien Guerrier, who contended in Wales behind Shinkwin and is at the top of his game. Like Soderberg, he showed as much with a big performance on the PGA Tour back in July.

Erik van Rooyen was another to demonstrate what a drop in class can do while Richard Mansell is a serious talent with a game similar to that of Smith. He was still recovering from his wedding when missing the cut at Crans but could do better here, inspired no doubt by Todd Clements’ exploits at Galgorm Castle where he too played nicely.

My shot in the dark however is JOHN GOUGH, available at 1000/1 in a place. Odds on a player like this will vary wildly and go quickly, so if you’re not able to get 500/1 or upwards he’s probably one to let slide, though for a loose-change bet I’m not sure turning your nose up at 400/1 is really necessary if you like the argument.

First and foremost he played really well at the Walker Cup, taking the best US player to the 18th hole, beating arguably the second-best US player comfortably in the most one-sided match of the week, and also picking up a foursomes win on Saturday.

He now turns professional and while it’s a massive ask to immediately prove competitive, and looking to Aberg for inspiration might seem fanciful, Gough does have some tour-level experience in the mix having made a really good go of it at the Belfry in the spring.

Given that course might be a good guide it’s encouraging that he played so well there for a time and as a top-class amateur he has real pedigree, his highlights including victory in the Irish Men’s Amateur Open Championship in May.

After that victory, Gough revealed how special it was to win in Ireland, where his parents are from and so many family members still live.

“I have so many cousins all over the place, aunts and uncles, you’d struggle to remember the names there’s that many of them, but seeing them here, it’s unbelievable, because they don’t get to see me play golf a lot,” he said. “Having them here and to pull through and get the trophy, definitely felt like a home event with the support I had. It’s a special place to do it for me.”

No doubt he’ll enjoy plenty more support this week and, buoyed by his display in the Walker Cup, it’s possible that he can do as he did in the British Masters and put himself in the tournament. From there, the next challenge would be seeing it through better, but at massive odds I don’t mind finding out if he can do something special in an event where special things happen.

Posted at 1100 BST on 05/09/23

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