Betting tips: Who to back at the Irish Open

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The European Tour’s unofficial links swing begins this week at Portstewart in Northern Ireland. A high-class field will be at the Irish Open hoping to relieve Rory McIlroy from the trophy he won last year

Dan’s top tips: Jon Rahm (16/1), Thomas Pieters (25/1), Andrew Johnston (70/1)

Twelve months ago, Rory McIlroy hit one of the shots of the year, a 5-wood into the heart of the K Club’s 18th green, to win his home title for the first time. The last Irish winner before him was Shane Lowry in 2009.

We can forget all that, though, because conditions on Arnold Palmer’s parkland layout near Dublin will bear precisely no relation to the Antrim coast and Portstewart’s newly remodeled links.

Actually, it might bear some relation because this is still Ireland and the forecast is not especially promising – grey and cool with a little bit of rain.

You take my point, though.

I’d rather pay close attention to Irish Opens that have been played by the seaside, as well as looking at some perennial contenders from Scottish Opens and the Open itself.

Let’s start by considering the big guns, whose number includes Rory, of course, as well as Hideki Matsuyama, currently the world No 2, Jon Rahm, Justin Rose and man-of-the-moment Tommy Fleetwood.

Irish Open - Rory McIlroy

I can’t get too excited by McIlroy at 7/1 given his slow return to form following his rib injury. In fact, I’d be reluctant to back him at this kind of price for any event where the weather is a variable.

My other concern, both with him and the rest apart from Rahm, is that this is the beginning of a three-week stretch leading up to the Open. You wonder if they will be more concerned with technique and acclimatization than pouring heart and soul into winning at Portstewart.

Matsuyama (10/1) is the second-favourite behind McIlroy and arrives in great form, having finished second at the US Open. He also has an Open pedigree, with a 6th at Muirfied four years ago.

We all know about Rose’s major credentials while Rahm just keeps churning out the top-10s – most recently just last week in France.

Both are available at 16/1, and look solid bets for a place if not a win. Rahm gets the nod for me having already spent a week in Europe before coming here.

The other 16/1 shot is Fleetwood and my advice would be to give the new French Open champion a swerve this week on the basis that very few players win one week and contend –­ let alone win – the next.

If you’re looking for someone who is coming to the boil, rather than arriving at full steam, how about Thorbjorn Olesen, a fast-finishing 3rd last week at 33s?

Irish Open - Thorbjorn Olesen

Similarly, Thomas Pieters has been quiet since an impressive top 10 at the Masters but looks to be pacing himself. Take a piece of the action at 25s.

Andrew Johnston (70/1) is never short of backers and arrives on the back of good if unspectacular weeks at both the US Open (42nd) and the French Open (23rd). Don’t forget, he posted a top-10 at Troon last year so he clearly relishes this type of golf.

As for the home challenge, Graeme McDowell arrives on the back of a missed cut and in a general malaise while Shane Lowry still can’t get back to where he was when leading the US Open through 54 holes last June. He missed the cut by eight last week, which is hardly encouraging.

It might be an idea to keep an eye on Paul Dunne, the highest-placed Irishman last week at T13th and another player to have led a major through 54 holes (the 2015 Open at St Andrews). He’s good value at 66/1.

If we look back to 2015, when the Irish Open was last held on a links course, in this case the peerless Royal County Down, it’s worth noting that Rafa Cabrera Bello (33/1), Tyrrell Hatton (35/1) and Andy Sullivan (40/1) all finished in the top six. They are all solid bets this week. My slight preference is for Sullivan.

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