John Duggan's Open Championshi...

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John Duggan's Open Championship Preview, Tips


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I was a politics undergraduate years ago, and the prospect of an Open Championship being held on the Island of Ireland would never have entered my mind. 

The Troubles were horrendous. Over 3000 people killed, thousands more maimed, traumatised, bereft of loved ones.

I remember the news reports growing up. Enniskillen. Milltown. The Shankill Road bombing. Greysteel. Loughinisland. Omagh. There was the IRA, the INLA, the Real IRA, the UVF, the UDA. The fight for civil rights. British rule and Bloody Sunday. The hunger strike. Atrocities on both sides of the religious divide and over both sides of the Irish sea. The Dublin and Monaghan bombings, the Brighton bomb, the Birmingham pub bombings.

When you read and hear all of the bluster and the bull and the loose talk from UK politicians around Brexit and a hard border and no deal and the backstop, it's pretty depressing. Never again should be the first thought in anyone's mind. Peace was won and it's a precious commodity.

Northern Ireland is about to experience the greatest sporting event in its history, a consequence of the peace process and the golden generation of Irish golfers putting the entire island, North and South, on the map.

Padraig Harrington led the way by winning the Open Championship twice in 2007 and 2008 and Ulstermen Graeme McDowell, Darren Clarke and Rory McIlroy joined him in the major circle.

Their feats and the push from Clarke in particular made an Open Championship at Royal Portrush a real possibility.

The 2012 Irish Open at the course was the dummy run and it was a tremendous success.

Now, seven years later, Tiger Woods, Brooks Koepka, Phil Mickelson and the rest of the world's top golfers are on the Causeway coast, ready for the first Open Championship at Royal Portrush in 68 years.

Portrush was where Fred Daly, the first Irishman to win the Open Championship in 1947, was born. It's where Clarke learned his trade, where McDowell grew up, where McIlroy shot a course record 61 as a 16-year-old.

The Dunluce links is a fantastic course, bathed in a cinematic setting. It is a straightforward, fair test that will reward good play this week over a par of 71.

An estimated 250,000 spectators are set to attend this week and it's the first sell out in Open Championship history.

So the Royal and Ancient must take credit for their leap of faith.

The Open has a worldwide reach of 600 million viewers and the tournament will be worth over 100 million euro to the local economy. It's going to be brilliant and let's hope the weather is challenging, but generous enough to allow good scoring.

Predictions

I have a 'virtual' €50 to recommend with which to bet and I am using www.oddschecker.com to select prices at 1/5 of the odds the first 10 places. Please gamble responsibly and don't bet more than you can afford.

I believe this is the week Rory McIlroy will end a five year drought for a major title and win 'at home'.

McIlroy is still the most talented golfer in the world in my view and he has shown great consistency in 2019. He has won at the Players Championship and in Canada, part of a pattern of 11 top 10's this season. He won the Open at Hoylake in 2014 and in the subsequent three years, he finished tied fifth, fourth and second. He also holds the course record at Royal Portrush. The stars are aligning for him to win the anchor leg of the major season. I also believe he will be spurred on by the crowd.

At 9/1, he's a rock solid each way proposition for €7 each way.

My next selection is American Justin Thomas.

The only caveat with Justin is that he may require more familiarity with links golf, but Portrush is a venue that is softer than Carnoustie last year and requires more precise aerial approaches.

Thomas is a supreme ball striker, a US PGA champion and a proven winner, with 9 US victories already by the age of 26. I think he's an excellent competitor and having recovered from a wrist injury, he tuned up for this week by finishing in the top 10 at the Scottish Open. He hasn't contended at an Open yet, but that can change.

I recommend €5 each way on Justin at 28/1.

In contrast to Thomas, there is no doubt about the ability of Sergio Garcia to play links golf, and he's my next recommendation.

Sergio has finished in the top 10 on 10 occasions at the Open Championship and should have won a claret jug by now. His 2017 Masters triumph means he has the major monkey off his back and nobody is better at shaping shots in links conditions.

Garcia has experienced mixed form, with his major showings disappointing of late, but he did post five top 10's in the USA this year and finished seventh on his last start at the Andalucia Masters.

The Spaniard doesn't have much of a feel for Portrush, so that could count against him.

However, at 66/1, he seems over priced to me given his ability from tee to green and I suggest €5 each way.

Golf is a truly global game and Haotong Li carries the hopes of China. He is very talented, winning twice on the European Tour by the age of 23, including a victory down the stretch against McIlroy at the Dubai Desert Classic last year.

Li finished third at the Open Championship at Birkdale two years ago and has also posted a top 10 finish at the Dunhill Links Championship. A good showing at Lahinch was followed by a missed cut in Scotland, but his second round was a 65.

I think Li shows no fear and he could surprise a few people. I recommend €4 each way at 110/1.

Finally, for a rank outsider to finish in the top ten, or win for those who write fairy tales, Paul Waring may be worth a look.

The Merseyside native squeezed into the Open Championship by virtue of a tied seventh finish at Lahinch, his qualification coming at the expense of Martin Kaymer.

Waring enjoyed his maiden European Tour win at the Nordea Masters last year and has played well this season.

He was right in contention at the 2012 Irish Open, shooting rounds of 69 and 65 at Portrush, before ending up in a tie for 10th with a weekend that saw him only go around in one under par.

Good memories of that week and being in-form could allow him to show his face this weekend.

I am recommending €2 each way on Paul Waring at 300/1.

I am also recommending €2 each way on Paul Waring at 175/1 in the First Round Leader Market. That is for 1/5 of the odds the first six places.

Who else?

Of the other contenders this week, Brooks Koepka obviously holds leading claims with the major form he has shown over the last two years and local favourite Ricky Elliott on the bag.

I don't fancy Tiger Woods. He hasn't played enough golf since the Masters and I am wondering if there is a physical issue. Last year's winner Francesco Molinari blew up at the Masters and that's a negative for me.

I also can't have the prospects of Jordan Spieth, who needs to strike the ball better than he has of late. Phil Mickelson has been inconsistent, while Dustin Johnson disappointed me at the US PGA. Justin Rose likewise at the US Open. The ceremonial duties of being a US Open champion may hinder the chances of Gary Woodland.

I wouldn't put anyone off Irish Open champion Jon Rahm or Fed Ex Cup leader Matt Kuchar.

Who knows which Rickie Fowler will turn up? He certainly has the game to contend.

Adam Scott has been playing well, but I am unsure about the robust nature of his putting.

Jason Day could be a sleeper with Steve Williams an excellent addition on the bag. Day's Australian colleague Marc Leishman has a good Open record.

Padraig Harrington will need to put it together for four rounds, which isn't certain, while the same theory applies to Graeme McDowell.

Aside from McIlroy, the best Irish chance may be Shane Lowry, who is in good form this season.

Finally, it's great to see Mallow amateur James Sugrue in the field, and I hope he enjoys it, especially as he's in the first group with Darren Clarke, who will hit the first tee shot on Thursday at 6.35am. It's fitting that Clarke should do that.

Enjoy this historic Open Championship!

John Duggan's €50 recommendation

Outright Market

€7 each way on Rory McIlroy at 9/1

€5 each way on Justin Thomas at 28/1

€5 each way on Sergio Garcia at 66/1

€4 each way on Haotong Li at 110/1

€2 each way on Paul Waring at 300/1

First Round Leader Market 

€2 each way on Paul Waring at 175/1

 

 

 


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