This event is returning to Northern Ireland for the first time since 2012, and to Royal County Down for the first time since 1939. Many consider this course to be the purest links in the world. The front nine runs along the sea and the opening 16 holes are played in dunes. Driving accuracy is at a premium, as most of the landing areas are blind from the tee. Look for players with strong links-course records and solid tee-to-green games to thrive. It also won’t hurt to be mentally tough — the weather can change quickly and you never know what the elements have in store.
World No. 1 Rory McIlroy has done a good job in getting friends to join him at this event, so it boasts an elite field. Eleven top-50 players in the world are in a field headlined by McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Rickie Fowler. Other marquee names include Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell and Bernd Wiesberger.
Garcia has the perfect tee-to-green game for Royal County Down and plays well on links courses. So does Francesco Molinari, who also happens to be the hottest players on the European Tour right now, having posted back-to-back top-5 finishes at the Spanish Open and BMW PGA. Danny Willett also has seven top-10s on links courses through his career and played in the 2007 Walker Cup at Royal County Down.
I think this tournament could turn into a duel between two of golf’s biggest stars: McIlroy and Fowler. Both played in the ‘07 Walker Cup, where Fowler won 3 of 4 points, and we all know that McIlroy knows how to find the blind fairways.