Joakim Lagergren
Joakim Lagergren

Ben Coley's Irish Open betting preview and tips

Our in-form golf expert Ben Coley previews this week's Irish Open, event three of the European Tour's Rolex Series.

Recommended bets: Irish Open

1pt e.w. Joakim Lagergren at 200/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5,6)

1pt e.w. Padraig Harrington at 80/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5,6)

2pts e.w. Shane Lowry at 35/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5,6)

1pt e.w. Andy Sullivan at 40/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5,6)

0.5pt e.w. Robert Rock at 300/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

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When it comes to the Irish Open, hosted by his charitable foundation, Rory McIlroy's philanthropy has taken another step forward in 2017.

Golf's biggest draw could, I'm sure, have a major say in where this event goes as it dances around the island. Yet, one year on from his spectacular victory at the K Club, we're at Portstewart - a links course which doesn't appear likely to suit his game anywhere near as much.

Rory likes trees. He thrives when he's got driver in hand and a clear vision of the shot required. The higher he can hit it, the more he enjoys it, and when he's enjoying his golf, driving the ball long and straight, he's extremely hard to beat.

When driver is taken out of his hands, replaced by something like a knockdown two-iron, he's far less dangerous.

That's why, throughout his career, he's thrived on long, soft, generally par 72 layouts and when he did win the Open Championship on a links golf course, it was only after Hoylake had been hit hard by rain and he was able to hit driver pretty much whenever he wanted to.

McIlroy's record in the Irish Open tells us all we really need to know. His par-five fireworks were enough to deny Russell Knox on a soft parkland layout last year, but he'd missed his three previous cuts under less suitable conditions.

In 2009, when a links-loving amateur named Shane Lowry landed an almighty local punt at Baltray, McIlroy was trudging round on his way to 50th place.

Granted, he managed 10th at Portrush, a course he knows well, and that offers some hope as to his prospects of a successful title defence - something he's yet to achieve anywhere.

Portrush is just five miles down the coast from Portstewart, and a fair, low-wind forecast raises the possibility of the type of shootout which could trigger a return to winning ways for the best player in the field.

But relying on a long-range weather forecast as the trigger for a bet on a 7/1 chance who has looked some way below his best throughout a stop-start year is just not the way to play things and on balance, we should focus on those with proven track records by the sea, come rain or shine.

Such a method led to Soren Kjeldsen at a huge price two years ago, to Tyrrell Hatton in the Dunhill Links last year, to Henrik Stenson in the Open, and it leads to most seaside champions even if it does produce fairly lengthy shortlists.

That just about rules out Hideki Matsuyama despite an impressive effort in Phil Mickelson's Open Championship, and it just about rules out Jon Rahm - even if he rolled up his sleeves and showed an ability to dig in at the Open de France last week and has won by the coast in California.

This brilliant young Spaniard is close to a bet at 16/1, but he was 14s in France and this is a significantly stronger field at the front end.

Justin Rose has some kind of links pedigree thanks to his win in the Scottish Open in 2014, but I can't shake the words of coach Sean Foley, who describes Rose as a 'big kid' who can't help himself when it comes to hitting the ball as high as possible.

The Olympic champion is of course shrewd enough to adapt and adjust as necessary, but his links record just doesn't stand up to scrutiny and he's yet to be a factor in the Irish Open in limited attempts.

Tommy Fleetwood's links record is by contrast superb and he's the best player in Europe at the moment, but he's also been going to the well and back and it's worth noting that his worst golf of the year came immediately after his victory in Abu Dhabi.

Granted, that one had been a long time coming, but there's at least a chance he suffers a hangover - just as he did when missing the cut after his first European Tour win in 2013 - and the fact he's pulled out of next week's Scottish Open tells you he could do with a break.

Suddenly, we're through the top of the market to Thomas Pieters, who felt he didn't really play all that well despite contending in France. He's fresher than most having played just three times since the Masters and is a links winner courtesy of the KLM Open, while his victory in Denmark is also a fair pointer.

At 25/1, the Belgian therefore appears a reasonable price and if this does prove a fairly easy test on what's a short par 72, look for him to go well providing the new driver behaves itself.

However, I'd rather search much further down the market for the best bet, with Joakim Lagergren surely overpriced at 200/1.

A glance at the Swede's bare form figures doesn't offer great encouragement, but Lagergren was one shot off the lead entering the final round of the BMW International Open two weeks ago. In other words, for most of that event he played much better than a tie for 14th might suggest.

Things obviously didn't go to plan on Sunday, but Lagregren has generally looked solid in the mix and didn't do much wrong when losing a play-off for the Qatar Masters to Jeunghun Wang's birdie earlier this year.

At just 25 years old, he's still learning when it comes to getting the job done and to that end a return to Northern Ireland, where he won on the Challenge Tour in 2014, has to be considered a positive.

That event was played inland at Ballymena, but Lagergren's record by the coast is really good regardless. He's placed in each of the last two editions of the Dunhill Links - high-class fields where market leaders tend to be vulnerable - while he was 20th after a good start in last year's KLM Open and finished 23rd when hugely inexperienced in the 2013 Scottish Open.

His T2 in Doha is particularly encouraging given that event's tendency to go to a genuine wind specialist and he's also showcased his ability when it does blow in both the Nordea Masters and the Madeira Islands Open, as well as adapting to particularly firm and fast conditions in Delhi a couple of years ago.

I'm always keen to side with Scandinavians in the UK and Ireland - Kjeldsen and Mikko Ilonen have won this recently, and events like the Wales Open, British Masters, Scottish Open, BMW PGA and Dunhill Links further underline that players from Sweden and Denmark in particular are often really good in this part of the world. I tend to think that's because they're used to the cold mornings and playing in the wind, but whatever the case the evidence is pretty vast.

This is a high-class field in which to make your breakthrough, but the same could be said of the Qatar Masters and Lagergren can definitely be a factor here if in the form he showed in Germany. He played perfectly nicely in France last week, too, making 14 birdies and an eagle but paying the price for the odd mistake at a really penal course.

Concerns as to Rory's sharpness must also apply to Padraig Harrington, who has suffered two injuries this season, but at 80/1 the 2007 champion can be given the benefit of the doubt.

It's a strange price, 80s, for a player who won on the European Tour last season and won on the PGA Tour in 2015. Harrington's career strike-rate is vastly better than one-in-81 and we're playing under his ideal conditions here, down the road from Portrush, where he was seventh in 2012.

I understand perfectly that Harrington is 45 years old now and that his overall form has regressed since he won three majors in little over a year towards the end of the last decade, but one thing he remains good at is winning. He's managed it 21 times in a career of fewer than 600 events and, crucially, in each of the last three years.

And while increasingly hard to catch right, it has to be considered a positive that Harrington has progressed from a missed cut at Wentworth to 31st in the Memorial and then 17th at the Travelers last time out, as he returns to action following a freak accident while giving a performance clinic.

He was just six shots off Jordan Spieth's winning total in Connecticut, tied with Rory but only after the latter scythed through the field on Sunday, and there's absolutely no doubt in my mind that of the two, he's far more likely to embrace this week's challenge.

Harrington's record in the Irish Open is the best among this field and includes two runner-up finishes (2004, 2010) and three further top-sevens (2002, 2005, 2012) to go with a win under tough conditions at Adare.

A long, soft K Club last year was not to his liking, but prior to it he'd shown a glimmer of promise at Royal County Down and finished a solid T14 in 2014.

At a links course, with good, progressive form and a return to the scene of one of his Open triumphs looming large, I consider him a major contender for this and at 80/1 a no-brainer.

The temptation here is to side with others similar to Harrington, like Graeme McDowell at a course he knows well from his junior days, or Jamie Donaldson following some recent signs of promise and in an event he won just down the road in 2012.

McDowell would dearly love to add this title to his CV and it's easy to make a case for him despite some average recent form, especially as he felt a weather delay combined with a mud-ball cost him in Paris where there were some positive signs otherwise.

But these Rolex Series events definitely have the attention of the Tour's in-form elite so I'm heading back towards the top of the market, where a handful of players appeal.

One is Thorbjorn Olesen, looking for a fifth European Tour win at the age of 27. The Dane has won the Dunhill Links and placed in two of his last three starts, while form in Qatar, Sicily and the Open Championship itself puts him firmly on the radar at around the 33/1 mark.

However, Shane Lowry is around the same price and preferred on this occasion as he seeks to return to the form which saw him share sixth at Wentworth in May.

We know from his victory in this event eight years ago that he's a very good links player, but there's evidence elsewhere, too. Lowry has been a factor in each of the last four editions of the Dunhill and has also played well in the Scottish Open at Royal Aberdeen, Castle Stuart and Gullane.

That's seven links courses we know he can perform on and he also has a top-10 finish at Royal Liverpool in the Open to his name, so there's every chance he can take to Portstewart on his first visit.

Lowry's form has been up and down since he spurned a good opportunity in the US Open last summer and there's little doubt he's needed time to adjust to fatherhood, but he'll be really excited about the next month and a chance to play golf under his ideal conditions.

"I think since April I've been playing really well and I really like (that) my game is in decent shape," he told RTE. "I'd be fairly confident going into the rest of the summer."

As well as winning this he was fifth in 2013 and prior to a missed cut in Paris, where he's never been a factor and has only twice broken 70, he'd started to strike the ball really well.

The same can be said of Andy Sullivan who also goes in the staking plan at 40/1.

Sullivan has struggled in the Dunhill Links, but maybe he just doesn't appreciate six-hour rounds with minor celebrities because his wider profile suggests links golf is very much to his liking.

Sullivan was sixth at Royal County Down in this event two years ago, has been third and 18th at Kennemer in the KLM Open, loves Le Golf National and its links-esque challenge, and has also been second in a windy renewal of the Trophee Hassan in Morocco.

Two starts in the Open Championship have seen him finish 30th and 12th, both entirely respectable, and even his form by the coast in Portugal (1st and 2nd) is fairly relevant given the conditions in both renewals and the names around him on the leaderboard.

But the real appeal with Sullivan is that he's started to drive the ball beautifully again and when he does that, his controlled cut is a real weapon which makes him a big danger in this type of event.

In each of his last three starts he's ranked fourth or better for fairways hit and with his iron-play dialled in for most of the week in Paris, where he finished just outside the top 10 having been one shot back entering the final round, he looks poised to challenge for a fourth European Tour title.

Others on the list of options include Niclas Fasth, believe it or not, whose Irish Open record is very good, and whose recent form suggests he's found a game with which he can be somewhat competitive again.

Another Scandinavian, there are worse 500/1 shots around but victory is bordering on the absurd, even if he is inspired by victory for a fellow former Open contender who had lost the plot in Andres Romero. Perhaps try him for the first-round lead instead.

Links men Richie Ramsay and Marc Warren don't appear to be playing well enough to make an impact while Chris Wood withdrew again last week, and the glimmers of promise from Thomas Aiken and Richard Sterne aren't quite enough to earn them the vote either.

Instead, I'll complete the staking plan with Robert Rock, who shares a few similarities with shock 2015 winner Kjeldsen.

Most importantly, Rock turned 40 in April. Kjeldsen had turned 40 in May prior to winning at Royal County Down, and spoke there of how reaching that landmark age had prompted some reflection and difficult questions, to which he clearly found the answers as he won a three-man play-off.

Rock finished 12th in Portugal just after his birthday and while the signs of an upturn in form have been far less immediate than they were for Kjeldsen, his solid 30th place in France last week could prove a springboard to success in an event which owes him one.

The Englishman received the winners' cheque when beaten by amateur Lowry in a play-off in 2009, but he'd dearly love to lift the trophy and having also been second in 2013 as well as fifth in 2006, his form in the event is really strong.

Granted, he's been a long way from the top table since that famous Abu Dhabi victory alongside Tiger Woods, but Rock does boast some solid links form including an Open Championship top-10 and is worth chancing at around 300/1.

Posted at 1830 BST on 03/07/17.

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