LEAP IN FOR LEE

Features

David John looks at this week’s Irish Open and reckons Lee Westwood will take plenty of beating at Adare Manor.

I would be very much inclined to not get carried away with the form from Italy as this week’s Irish Open at Adare Manor provides a completely different test.
Record-breaking scores with birdies and eagles rolling in from all angles will be replaced by a far sterner examination which saw a winning score of just five under par posted 12 months ago by Padraig Harrington and Bradley Dredge – the former winning the subsequent play-off.
Harrington’s victory enhanced his already legendary status in Ireland having ended his homeland’s considerable drought without a winner.
He admitted that he was able to pull off the success despite all the added extra media attention which meant he was not able to put in quite the preparation he would have liked.
That is very much going to be the case again as he returns to even greater adulation having gone on to lift the Claret Jug at the Open Championship two months later.
He is certainly going to have his hands full away from the course in the build-up and I just feel that is enough reason to swerve him at around the 8/1 mark.
If the current hot streak in Irish golf is to continue – their players have won four of the last nine European events – then it could be reliable campaigner Paul McGinley who steps up to the plate.
Into his 40s now, I wonder whether his best years might be behind him as he has slipped down to 158 in the World Rankings.
But it only takes one good event to change all that and he is still capable of some quality golf as five of his 10 finishes in the 2008 campaign have been inside the top 20, including a third on his own at the Ballantines Championship.
His stats are rock-solid – third in Stroke Average, fourth in GIR and sixth in Driving Accuracy – the latter important here as a lot of the alterations to the course from 2007 have seen the landing areas from the tee tightened up.
He ideally needs to sink a few more putts but it won’t be to the same extent as we saw last week in Italy so McGinley has a fighting chance at 50/1 to improve on two past top five finishes in this event.
I am not particularly tempted by the 25/1 available on Darren Clarke or Robert Karlsson, who both feature among the market leaders.
It took a long time for Clarke to get back in the winner’s enclosure recently at the BMW Asian Open and a quick follow-up seems unlikely while Karlsson looks a ‘bridle horse’ to me at the moment – majestic for two rounds in Milan but not finding a great deal when Hennie Otto turned on the pressure over the weekend.
I have no doubt that Lee Westwood will find these greens far less frustrating than at Augusta National and he must surely go close if having anywhere near a decent crack of the whip with the putter.
He admitted at The Masters that his ball striking was excellent but his putting was “pathetic” and he should have been somewhere near double figures under par – which would have won him the Green Jacket.
He missed the cut at a blustery Players Championship – not ideal I know – but it could work in his favour as he will have had some extra time to get ready this week.
He boasts a spanking good record in Ireland and after Harrington, is the top ranked player taking part.
He was T21 12 months ago when a 77 in round two rather spoiled the week – I suggest just backing him win only at 14/1.
Those after a more speculative wager could do worse than have an interest in Scott Strange.
A look back at past Irish Open results have seen the Antipodean visitors do very well – Kiwi Michael Campbell and Aussie Brett Rumford were back-to-back winners in 2003 and 2004 – while there have been a host of high finishes posted by the likes of Peter Lonard, Nick O’Hern and Richard Green.
Strange may be less established than that trio but he has been in tremendous nick in 2008, making 10 out of 12 cuts and posting a handful of high finishes.
It is easy to argue that Strange is at his best playing in Asia but I think he is worth a chance to transfer that form to the verdant fairways of Ireland at a tasty 125/1.

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