Sunday 18 February 2018

Ireland's famous five at Valhalla

A lowdown on our challengers in the USPGA

Rory McIlroy will look to add to his Open victory from earlier this year
Rory McIlroy will look to add to his Open victory from earlier this year

Karl MacGinty

RORY McILROY  (25). World Rank: No 1. Odds: 5/1 fav.

US PGA Record: P: 5, W: 1 (at Kiawah 2012), Top-3: 2. Top-10: 1.  Rounds Played: 20. To par: -18. Wins in 2014: 3 (BMW PGA at Wentworth, The Open, Bridgestone Invitational).

THE hottest player to burst onto the world golf since since Tiger Woods won the US Masters in 1997, McIlroy had two record-shattering victories at the US Open in 2011 and 2012 US PGA before showing phenomenal maturity and focus to win the Claret Jug at Hoylake last month.

He joins Jack Nicklaus and Woods in winning three different Majors by age 25. He hopes to complete a rare hat-trick this week, emulating Tiger’s win at The Open, Bridgestone and PGA in 2000 and 2006. McIlroy has the perfect game for Valhalla.

Graeme McDowell finished on a share of ninth at the RBC Canadian Open at Royal Montreal. Photo: Charles Laberge/Getty Images

GRAEME McDOWELL (35) World Rank: No 15. Odds: 40/1.

US PGA Record: P: 9, T-10: 1 (10th at Hazeltine). MC: 4. Rounds Played: 28. To Par: +33.. Wins in 2014: 1 (Alstom Open de France).

A FORMIDABLE competitor, as he proved in victory at the 2010 US Open and as Europe’s Ryder Cup match-clincher at Celtic Manor that season, McDowell’s blessed with a phenomenal putting touch, which should come in handy this week.

He’s not a boomer but his accuracy from tee to greens and sharp strategic instincts could propel him into contention on the golf course where he made an impressive Ryder Cup debut in 2008, albeit on Nick Faldo’s losing European team.

Shane Lowry is making a late bid for a Ryder Cup place. Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

SHANE LOWRY (27) World Rank: No 58. Odds: 100/1.

US PGA Record: P: 2. MC: 1. Rounds Played: 6. To Par: +13. Best Finishes in 2014: Second behind R McIlroy at BMW PGA at Wentworth, T4 at Scottish Open, T9 at Open)

FAMOUS throughout golf for winning the 2009 Irish Open at Baltray as an amateur, Lowry followed-up with his first professional victory at the 2012 Portugal Masters.

A former playing partner of McIlroy’s on Irish national amateur teams, he’s blessed with great natural talent but only recently appears to have acquired the belief to show it in the Major Championship arena, his brilliant final round 65 for a fighting share of ninth place with Graeme McDowell at The Open at Hoylake being a case in point. This guy can make birdies to beat the band and is a good each way bet.

Padraig Harrington played aggressively at Montreuz and reaped the rewards. (Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE)

PADRAIG HARRINGTON (42)  World Rank: 263. Odds: 200/1

US PGA Record: P: 15. W: 1 (at Oakland Hills 2008), Top-10: 1. MC: 6. Rounds Played: 48. To Par: +74). Best Finishes in 2014: Tied 5th in the January’s Volvo Golf Champions in South Africa).

WITHOUT a win on the US or European Tours since landing his third Major title in 13 months at the 2008 US PGA at Oakland Hills, Harrington has lost so much momentum and picked up so few world rankings points that the has tumbled from a career-high of third to 263rd right now.

This three-time Major Champion this year failed to qualify for the Masters or the US Open for the first time this century and needs to pull off a mini-miracle either this week or at the Wyndham next week to save his Tour card in the US for 2015. The odds are stacked heavily against the Dubliner but this famous warhorse simply refuses to quit.

Darren Clarke has been using explosive gym sessions to shed the pounds

DARREN CLARKE (45) World Rank: 341. Odds: 300/1.

US PGA Record: P: 15. Top-10’s: 1 (T9 Valhalla, 2000). MC: 9. Rounds Played: 42. To Par: +95.) Best finishes in 2014:  T24 at Volvo Golf Champions in South Africa, T26 at The Open, Hoylake).

WHEN he reported for his first tournament of 2014, the Volvo Golf Champions in Duban, South Africa, Clarke was a stunning 40-plus pounds lighter after throwing himself headlong into a new fitness programme and healthy-eating regime over the winter.

Naturally, a period of adjustment would be expected after such a dramatic change in body shape but the 2011 Open Champion’s golf has not responded to the endless hours of toil he puts in on the range. He’s missed nine cuts and withdrawn once in 19 appearances during a miserable year on the US and European Tours but, as he showed at Sandwich, anything can happen if Clarke gets in the mood. 

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