We’ve put the two tournament previews together as one this week as John has got one pick for the Joburg Open! First up though is the AT&T Pro-Am at Pebble Beach.
Formerly the Bing Crosby back in the day this tournament continues to be one of the most eagerly anticipated and fun events on the PGA Tour each year, this has a lot to do with the contribution of Bill Murray, Clint Eastwood and many more celebrities and sporting stars over the past 50 years or so.
John’s first pick this week at Pebble is G-Mac himself, Graeme McDowell. He is best price 33/1 with Ladbrokes, Bet Victor and Boylesports among others paying out 5 places while Paddy Power are offering 28/1 with 6 places. This will be McDowell’s first start of the calendar year and his first since early December. He’s played well in two unofficial PGA Tour events and showed decent form at the WGC-HSBC Champions tournament in November. Now he returns to the site of his marvellous Major championship win, the 2010 U.S. Open. He actually hasn’t played Pebble Beach since then, and he’s only played the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am on one occasion— 2006 when he missed the cut. Deasy doesn’t like that he tends to hover near even-par and doesn’t shoot particularly low, especially for consecutive days. He’s a solid golfer to say the least, just don’t let the U.S. Open win fool you.
Next up to be considered for a Pebble Beach win this week is Jason Day, best price 11/1 with Paddy Power paying 6 places. Though he has just one PGA Tour win to his name, Day has developed a reputation as a high-stakes player. If it’s a Major, Day is usually in contention. And while this isn’t a Major, what it does tell you is the Aussie is supremely close to being an every-day elite golfer. He finished sixth last year at 13-under and finished T-14 in 2009. He also didn’t miss a single cut last year and finished T-2 at the Farmers Insurance Open two weeks ago at Torrey Pines.
John’s third one-to-watch in Northern California at Pebble is Phil Mickelson. Lefty is on offer at 14/1 with most of the usual suspects, again Paddy Power providing the overall value paying 6 places. Phil is one of those guys who can play badly for a couple of weeks and will give us a quote such as, “I feel like my game is coming around and I’m really driving the ball well. I’m just not scoring well.” One week he’s off the radar and the next he wins a tournament. This could set up like 2012 when Mickelson performed only alright at the Waste Management Phoenix Open but then won at Pebble Beach. The four-time Pebble champion has historically played well here even regardless of victory. The risk with Phil is that back issue so do take this into consideration.
Edoardo Molinari is John’s pick for the Joburg Open and at best price 66/1 with 888sport he’ll provide you with a great return if he does the business. Edoardo might well have a very good chance after showing form over the last 3 tournaments he has played , and with the added incentive of the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles in September he might be able to pull a rabbit out of the hat early in the year .
The Irish Open Golf Championship returns to Carton House this week after last being played there back in 2006 when it was won on that occasions by Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn. It also returns to the Montgomerie Course, having initially been pencilled in for the O’Meara Course at Carton. A field of the very best Irish golfers, from North and South, along with some of the top European stars will fight it out over 4 days for what is still one of the most coveted titles in European golf – Padraig Harrington considers it his “Fifth Major” so that just shows the grá he has for the tournament. There have been 2 Irish winners since the last Irish Open was hosted at Carton, Harrington and Lowry while he was still an amateur, and a large home crowd are hoping again to cheer on an Irish champion!
Golf Ireland have been putting in a lot of work behind the scenes, and much credit should go to them for this. I particularly like their grandstand on 17, where I’m sure the Irish crowd will be looking to rival a similar, but much larger, amphitheatre at the PGA Tour stop at Phoenix. The the craic should be mighty at 17 over the 4 days of the tournament though…..they don’t get that in the States! Fans can reserve their seat for the 17th hole grandstand for just €10 per day, ensuring that in the year of The Irish Gathering they are part of this exhilarating crowd experience. Big screens will also be erected at the 17th hole allowing spectators to watch all of the action from elsewhere on the course. Anyone who has already purchased reserved seating for the 18th green grandstand will also receive automatic entrance to the 17th stand. All reserved grandstand seating for the 18th on Saturday and Sunday is now sold out. Information about the 17th hole grandstand at the 2013 Irish Open can be found on www.europeantour.com/tickets, where special advanced tickets offers for the tournament can also be located.
An advance season ticket for all four days of The Irish Open can be bought for €70. Adult day tickets are priced at €30 pre-event, and €35 on the gate. Concessions are available at €50 for a season (€60 on the gate) and €20 for any one day (€25 on the gate). Under-16s accompanied by an adult are admitted free of charge and all car parking is also free.
Here are the guys who I think will contend this week, I’ll try to run the rule over the most of the Irish in the field as well.
RORY McILROY (17/2 best price with Sportingbet)
It’s tough to consider Rory the favourite with his recent form although from what I have heard coming out of the practice rounds so far the course this year, with decent weather, will suit the bombers and McIlroy is right up there with all the biggest hitters in the game. Rors has not really contended much this year however and it will be interesting to see how his indifferent form may hold up to this down the stretch on Sunday. I think better value can be had with some of the other Irish players.
THOMAS BJORN (16/1 best price with BETFRED)
The Dane triumphed here when the Irish Open was last played at Carton and in very tough conditions too. He could well be coming in here as the BMW champ, only a double bogey late on in Germany derailing his hopes on the final day. Expect Thomas to be in with a chance here, he is playing well and obviously has previous course form too.
GRAEME McDOWELL (16/1 best price with Paddy Power)
G-Mac is simply the best Irish golfer on form at the moment, 2 wins this year already and plenty fine play in between that as well should make him one of the leading contenders to hoist aloft the Irish Open trophy come Sunday evening in Kildare. His US Open performance was obviously not up to his high standards of late but I would not let that blip put you off. He’s also 7/2 (Ladbrokes) to be top Irish player so that might be worth looking at as well
PADRAIG HARRINGTON (20/1 best price with Stan James & Paddy Power)
Two superb rounds followed by one poor round and then one terrible round sum up Padraig’s week at the Travelers Championship in the States, I hope he has gotten over that and the jetlag to make a proper attempt at winning his 2nd Irish Open. Paddy finished 11th here back in 2006 and if he gets into contention there are few players around that fight as hard as he does. I don’t think this will be his week, Muirfield could well provide this in a few weeks time, but with the home crowd cheering him on it would not surprise me. He considers the Irish Open as the Fifth Major, and rightly so as an Irish golfer, so the motivation is always there for him and he’ll be trying his hardest to win again.
ROSS FISHER (25/1 best price with Ladbrokes)
Ross finished tied 5th back in 2006 and his form has been better of late than in recent years. 25/1 is a bit shorter than I thought he would be however so he is more included here because of his previous course form rather than his overall form coming into the tournament. He does love the Irish Open though and it obviously has memories for him for certain reasons, being the 2010 Irish Open champion is of course one of these.
SHANE LOWRY (25/1 with Stan James)
One of Offaly’s favourite sons tees it up at Carton with a lot of expectation on his shoulders. He is their Touring Professional and lives on-site so he should know the course better than anybody in the field really. He is playing good golf, his win over friend Rory McIlroy in the Accenture Matchplay being one of the highlights I suppose where his amazing touch around the greens was evident. He will need this short game to be razor sharp once more with the tricky greens on the Monty course and, of course, with those bunkers! Has a big chance this week.
A few for the maybe pile are PAUL CASEY (50/1 with sportingbet), PETER UIHLEIN (45s with Stan James) and ROMAIN WATTEL (70/1 with Stan James). Now for the rest of the Irish!
I think in terms of a good performance, comfortably making it to the weekend and going from there could well be seen as the target for the likes of David Ryan, John Kelly, Damian Mooney, Brendan McGovern, Reeve Whitson, Gavin Moynihan, Donal Gleeson, Cian McNamara, Gareth Shaw and Kevin Phelan while Barrie Trainor (with Limerickman Andrew Kiely on the bag for the week!), Seamus Power, Mark Murphy, David Higgins, Alan Dunbar, Simon Thornton, Michael Hoey, Gareth Maybin, Damien McGrane and Peter Lawrie may well have loftier goals. Mark Murphy was one of the last into the field and he has been coming on leaps and bounds since winning the Big Break Ireland a few years back. He made a fantastic eagle on his 36th hole at Portrush last year to make the cut so he is no stranger to coming up with the goods when it is least expected, I’m sure some cute Kerrymen may well have a few euro on at 80/1 ! The prospects this week of Ryder Cup Captain, Paul McGinley, and 2011 Open Champ, Darren Clarke, are uncertain as they are not playing as much as a few years back. McGinley, of course, has plenty on his mind with Ryder Cup duties along with his link to the Golf Development Project in Ghana as well. Clarke has really never found the same form that brought another Irish Major win at The Open Championship. Apart from the leading Irish contenders like Rors, G Mac, Harrington and Lowry, it may prove surprising if the lads above contended at the top of the leaderboard – they are all fine players however and with the home support there may be something special to happen yet, we all remember 2009 at Baltray!
Here’s to a wonderful week of golf at Carton House for the 2013 Irish Open, not sure what the weather will be like but let us hope it will be fitting for the biggest tournament in Irish golf and one that should be a flagship event on the European Tour calendar. There will be a few events going on during the week that are not to be missed, namely the ‘Open House @ 17’ Challenge. Anyone visiting the Tented Village at Carton House can register to compete in the challenge at the GUI National Academy stand. Spectators can then use the shuttle service provided by The European Tour to access the challenge which takes place at the GUI National Golf Academy adjacent to the championship course itself. The challenge involves a 170-yard tee shot to a green in the short game area of the Academy – replicating the testing challenge that the world’s top professionals will face during the Irish Open tournament itself. The six players closest to the flag each day will be invited to play the actual 17th hole in front of packed grandstands and galleries with prizes on offer for the winners including vouchers for the National Golf Academy and discounts on insurance from the GUI’s main sponsor AIG.
Other initiatives include the ‘Irish Double’ ticket to enjoy the third round of the Irish Open and the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby Day for a combined price of €50. It will hopefully prove to be a fantastic week of golf in Ireland, I just wish I could make it!
The second Major of the year takes place at Merion Golf Club in Pennsylvania, USA, in June and this is the focus of Part 2 of my Majors 2013 Previews. Their East Course has hosted more USGA Championships than any other in America so expect the usual layout, plenty rough and ultra-fast greens come to mind. Bobby Jones won the 1930 US Amateur title there, considered a Major at the time, while the most iconic shot probably played there was Ben Hogan’s 1-iron on the last hole of the 1950 US Open. Merion’s pedigree as a US Open venue is not in question and anybody around that Level Par mark will be likely contenders down the stretch on Sunday in the Final Round.
THE US OPEN CHAMPIONSHIP, Merion Golf Club, Thursday 13th – Sunday 16th June
The last US Open held at Merion was 1981, won by David Graham, so not much course form will come into who may win probably the toughest Major in golf this year. Edoardo Molinari has most recent course form, having won the US Amateur there back in 2005 but his form has well and truly eluded him since his Ryder Cup bow in 2010 when he was superb in the final qualification tournaments. As usual at the US Open, expect contenders to come from those who are solid from tee to green, also great grafters and those with a good short game, most importantly clutch putters. My early picks to contend in the US Open are Northern Irish pair Rory McIlroy & Graeme McDowell, Jason Dufner and Brandt Snedeker. They all pretty much fit the bill and hopefully I will explain why………
G Mac is very much a US Open type golfer, gets it in play off the tee, without being overly long, and is one of the best putt clutch putters on the planet. His ability shown to hold his head while others were losing theirs (sorry Dustin Johnson!) was very much on display at Pebble Beach in 2010 and his performance last year at Olympic Club showed his battling qualities as he attempted to catch Webb Simpson down the stretch. His came so so close last year to adding to his Major haul and I expect another fine showing in Pennsylvania in June.
Jason Dufner is one of the finest ball strikers out there and his seemingly relaxed way of going about things is the sort of mentality you need to win a US Open. His only time in real contention for a Major so far did end up with him losing a playoff to Keegan Bradley when it did look like he was cruising to victory so this would provide the doubters with plenty ammunition but it did takes to likes of Phil, Jim Furyk and even Rory a few attempts while contending for a Major before they eventually claimed one of Golf’s big titles. I would not be surprised in the slightest should “The Duff” be in the final pairings when the final round of the US Open tees off at Merion.
Brandt Snedeker is the latest tour star to claim the crazy bonus on offer for winning the FedEx Cup, and according to the affable Southerner in a recent interview with David Feherty at the Farmers Insurance Open, he has not managed to spend much of that but rather use some of the funds for a charity foundation he is involved in. That is neither here nor there when discussing the potential winner of The US Open Championship but good things usually happen to good people all the same, and Snedeker is definitely in this bracket – his golf isn’t half bad either! One of the final proponents of the old odyssey mallet putter, he is one of the best putters from long and short and his long game is generally spot on albeit a poor showing over the final two rounds at The Open Championship last July does point to maybe a slight weakness when contending at the very top of the game. He has been a superb player for a few years now so well worth looking at for at least a top-5 finish in June.
World No.1 Rory McIlroy has got the perfect game to win a US Open, he has won the championship already so no need to offer any particular proof here. Whether he can keep up his record of only winning Majors by 8 shots is, of course, probably not up for discussion and I’m sure he’ll take a win no matter by what margin. Once Rors get into contention in a Major now he does seem to have the knack of closing them out, I know he has only won 2 but he has probably only genuinely contended in 4 so a 50% conversion rate from those he has had a chance to win going into the latter stages is pretty damn good. I can look to many contenders for the US Open Championship, and I’m sure due to form and other issues these will change over the next 5 months, but my man for Merion is McIlroy.
The US Open always throws up something that little bit different due to the difficulty of the layouts presented to the best players in the world, and I expect the second Major of 2013 not to vary here at all. The best of the best at the moment is Rory though and I fully expect him to keep up his record of winning 1 Major a year from 2011.
Another big event in June will be in Ireland as the Mount Juliet Junior Scratch Cup takes place on Sunday 2nd June. Interest is also already high for this amateur event which is also a fixture on the Top Golfer Tour 2013, the winner of the Mount Juliet Junior Scratch Cup will take their place in the Top Golfer Tour Championship later this year. The entry fee is €60 per person, online bookings can be taken via http://www.brsgolf.com/mountjuliet/opens_day.php while you can book by phone on 056-7773012 or email email@example.com.