Byeong-hun An shocked the vast majority of us Fantasy Golf managers with his incredible breakthrough victory at the BMW PGA Championship last week. Colin Tuff’s ‘Trampled under foot’ team took the spoils but even he overlooked the Korean. Jimenez, Fleetwood, Molinari and Lowry were his big scorers and it is to the latter’s homeland that attention shifts for week seven.
The Irishman secured a US Open berth with his Wentworth display – the latest highlight of what has been an incredible rise to prominence for the 28-year-old since he won this title as an amateur in 2009. All eyes, though, will once again be on home favourite and world number one, Rory McIlroy, perhaps more so after his missed cut and tantrums down in Surrey. There is no chance of him avoiding the spotlight here as his foundation hosts proceedings at Royal County Down.
The 26-year-old has attracted a stellar line-up to Northern Ireland with Fowler, Garcia, Jimenez, Els, Donald, McDowell, Kaymer and Westwood amongst those teeing it up by the sea. County Down plays host for the first time since 1939, meaning only the home favourites and those who appeared in the 2007 Walker Cup (McIlroy, Horsey, Willett, Fowler) have had a proper look at the Championship Course.
At just 7,186 yards, the par 71 is far from a test of length but with frequent changes in direction getting to grips with the wind direction is key to success. Ranked as one of the best courses outside of the USA and one of McIlroy’s favourites, the Newcastle links features dunes, fast and undulating fairways and small greens. Blind tee shots and ‘bearded bunkers’ (overhanging lips with fescue and heather) are quirky additions to this traditional seaside test.
Accuracy and handling conditions are the keys to victory this week – wind and rain are forecast to feature at some point every day – so here’s who I’m backing to battle through on the links.
Rory McIlroy, £7.5m
Tiredness brought on by his Quail Hollow win and subsequent media commitments on his return to Britain were to blame for his performance and reactions at the BMW. Will have been glad of a weekend off and, as host, desperate to put on a show in his homeland. He loves this place and it provides the perfect preparation for the US Open at Chambers Bay in three weeks.
Shane Lowry, £1.7m
Home favourite who loves the links as victory in this in 2009 and top-10s in last year’s Open, Alfred Dunhill and Scottish Open illustrate. Tied for sixth at Wentworth after a disappointing opening 74.
Marc Warren, £1.6m
The Scot was 18th at Wentworth and boasts a fine links record. Was 25th (Alfred Dunhill), 39th (Open), third (Scottish Open) and 29th (Irish Open) last season.
Tommy Fleetwood, £1.5m
If anyone’s comfortable on a links layout it should be the boy from Southport. His links record in the professional ranks is patchy but top-5s in his last two Alfred Dunhill starts is enough to get him a pick this week. Finished sixth at Wentworth.
Chris Wood, £1.2m
His hole-in-one and brand new motor earned him column inches last week but it shouldn’t be forgotten that the ace contributed to a fourth-place finish at Wentworth. That was his fifth straight cut and he’s another who seems to like it when the wind blows – top-25s in last year’s Open, Irish Open and Alfred Dunhill.
David Horsey, £0.8m
Just missed out on the weekend at Wentworth but was going well leading into that, making five straight cuts. Enjoyed a fine Walker Cup here in 2007, winning three points out of four.