The European Tour heads for the Emerald Isle this week for The Irish Open. England’s Paul Casey defends the title against a strong field at Fota Island Resort.

Lowdown:
The European Tour heads for the Emerald Isle this week for The Irish Open. England’s Paul Casey defends the title against a strong field at Fota Island Resort.

Many of Europe’s best have made the journey across the Atlantic this week after participating in the U.S. Open at Pinehurst. Rory McIlroy will be the top-ranked player and star attraction at Fota Island this week, but a host of others will be there in support. Fellow Irish Major winners Graeme McDowell, Darren Clarke and Padraig Harrington will play, so too Victor Dubuisson, Stephen Gallacher and Matteo Manassero.

“The Irish Open is always special to us as Irish players,” said Graeme McDowell. “Fota Island was my Irish Open debut and it’s got good memories, good thoughts, a great venue.  Everyone is going to be very excited and very pumped up. It should be a great Irish Open.  I’m very excited about it and I’m going there with my game in decent shape.”

England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick makes his first start as a professional after finishing as top amateur at last week’s U.S. Open.

“I’m really looking forward to making my debut as a professional and it’s great to be able to do it in such a strong field,” he said. “Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell are world-class, but there are so many other great players playing too. It’s exciting stuff.”

The Irish Open has a long and distinguished history. It was first contested in 1927 and has produced some famous champions over the years. Bobby Locke, Bernard Gallacher, Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Bernard Langer and Colin Montgomerie have all been champions.

Last year at Carton House, Paul Casey made a welcome return to the winner’s circle. He overhauled Holland’s Joost Luiten with an excellent final round of 67.

Fota Island Resort was host to the Irish Opens of 2001 and 2002. Those events were won by Colin Montgomerie and Soren Hansen. Monty won’t be in the field this week, but Hansen will be there and will be hoping a return to the site of a former glory might help him to rediscover some form.

Designed by Peter McEvoy and Christy O’Connor Junior, Fota Island was opened in 1993. Jeff Howes upgraded the layout in 1998. It’s an attractive parkland layout featuring an abundance of water.

The weather forecast for this week looks to be set fair – mild temperatures and only a moderate breeze. Look out for some good scoring.

Venue: Fota Island Resort
Date: Jun 19-22
Course stats: par 71, 7,043 yards
Purse: €2,000,000 Winner: €333,330
Defending Champion: Paul Casey (-14)

TV Coverage:
Thursday 19 – Sky Sports 4 from 10am
Friday 20 – Sky Sports 4 from 10am
Saturday 21 – Sky Sports 4 from 12.30pm
Sunday 22 – Sky Sports 4 from 11.30am

Player Watch:
Stephen Gallacher – The Scot has played well in recent weeks and will be looking for a strong push over the next few weeks to try and force his way into Paul McGinley’s Ryder Cup side.

Marcel Siem – He was tied seventh at the BMW PGA Championship then managed an excellent tied 12th at Pinehurst. He struggles to find consistency but if he can keep the blunders off his card, he’ll contend this week.

Rafa Cabrera-Bello – Tied 16th at the BMW PGA Championship then tied ninth at the Nordea Masters, Cabrera-Bello is one of the most talented players on the European Tour. He only has two wins to his name at present but will surely add to that tally. Maybe this week.

Key hole:
18th. A highly reachable par-5 of just 532 yards, this is a great risk/reward hole. Find the fairway from the tee and almost everyone in the field will be tempted to have a crack in two. But the green is protected with water left, right and behind. Anything pin-high or beyond that strays too far off line will end up wet.