With The Open just around the corner and links golf on the minds of all in the game it’s disappointing to see the Irish Open opting for a second straight year at an inland course.
It feels like an opportunity lost to attract at least a few higher profile players looking for some ‘reps’ in that style of golf ahead of contesting the game’s oldest major though in truth, it’s the fans who lose out the most.
Having said that, a decent field and an Australian being the defending champion will make for some interesting golf on the Jack Nicklaus designed Mount Juliet course that will do enough to test the field.
This is the second straight year the course has hosted the tournament though it is no stranger to big time golf with three previous Irish Opens in the 1990s and two WGC events in the early 2000s.
DEFENDING CHAMPION: Lucas Herbert claimed his second European Tour title with a three shot victory here last year. "It's a bit fulfilling,” he said afterwards. “I feel I was probably at one of my low points in my life two years ago when I played at Lahinch in the Irish Open. I feel like I've done full swing and to come back around and win the event is pretty satisfying."
RIGHT: Lucas Herbert won his second European Tour title at this event and course in 2021. PHOTO: Patrick Bolger/Getty Images.
After an up-and-down front nine on Sunday, Herbert traversed the back nine in three-under to win despite not having his best stuff.
COURSE: With so many great links courses in Ireland it can be difficult for an inland course to shine and while it receives its share of good reviews few recommend Mount Juliet as a ‘must play’ in the Emerald Isle.
A 1991 creation of Jack Nicklaus and Ron Kirby the course winds its way around an ancient Irish estate with water a constant hazard.
At 6,640 metres there is plenty of length for a field of this calibre but with the water mostly out of play at this level scoring tends to be low.
Herbert won at 19-under last year on a course admittedly softened by rain while Tiger Woods’s 25-under winning total in the 2002 WGC event was one of five scores better than 20-under.
The course more resembles something you might see on the PGA Tour than the aesthetic we associate with Ireland and rewards the aerial style of play preferred by the modern professional. Expect plenty of birdies over the course of the week.
Standout holes include the all water carry par-3 3rd and the par-4 13th where the second shot is played across are to a green protected by a stone wall.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: The locals will again be disappointed with Rory McIlroy’s failure to play the event though 2019 Open Champion Shane Lowry will be on the receiving end of plenty of support.
He was T23 here last year after three pedestrian rounds but found something to his liking Sunday with a 66.
That will hold him in good stead this week despite coming off a disappointing missed cut at the U.S. Open at Brookline last start.
Last week’s runner up Thomas Pieters may be a better prospect after some superb golf in Germany.
There are few weaknesses in the Belgian’s physical game and one gets the feeling from the outside most of his errors are mental and often compounded by a fierce temper.
His disposition is not dissimilar to Tyrell Hatton though the Englishman appears to have softened the edges using self-deprecating humour, but with some sting.
Pieters has never been a model of consistency but when he finds the magic it is impressive and after last week’s heroics he can’t be counted out.
Another whose ‘A’ game stands out form the crowd is Min Woo Lee whose form has been sporadic to say the least in 2022.
He’s played mostly in the U.S. this year on sponsors invites and in majors and while there has been some good golf at some of the biggest events it has been less so week-to-week.
Like Lowry he was 23rd here last year and a return to European soil might be just the tonic for Lee who will also be keen to step out of his sister’s shadow after her recent stunning run.
72-HOLE RECORD: 263 (-25, Tiger Woods, 2002 WGC American Express)
PAST AUSSIE WINNERS: Ossie Pickworth (1950), Brett Rumford (2004), Lucas Herbert (2021)
AUSTRALIANS IN THE FIELD: Jason Scrivener, Lucas Herbert, Min woo Lee, Scott Hend, Maverick Antcliff and Zach Murray.
Round 1: Thursday (Fox Sports 503 10pm –3am)
Round 2: Friday (Fox Sports 503 10pm – 3am)
Round 3: Saturday (Fox Sports 503 11pm – 2.30am)
Round 4: Sunday (Fox Sports 503 10pm – 2.30am)
*AEST, check local guides