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Wednesday, 19 December, 2018

Sweet-swinging Lowry looks the Dunhill dangerman

Ireland set for another great week

Paul Dunne (left) celebrates his British Masters win with pal Shane Lowry last week
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Sky Sports Golf/Main Event, 1pm Thursday
Starts 9am

Palmer's top tip
Shane Lowry 20-1
The Irish were jubilant in Newcastle-upon-Tyne on Sunday when Paul Dunne won the British Masters in heroic fashion, and a similar story could unfold in Scotland this week.

Shane Lowry, the first man on to the 18th green to celebrate with compatriot Dunne at Close House, can become Dunhill Links champion at St Andrews. Lowry appears to have got his swing in fantastic order in time to boss proceedings at the Home of Golf.

This season has been a disappointing one for Lowry, who was gutted to miss out on the Ryder Cup a year ago, but there have been signs that the popular Offaly lad is getting his act together again at the start of the qualification process for the next Ryder Cup.

Lowry finished seventh in the Wyndham Championship on the US Tour in the middle of August, then a second-round 64 in the Portugal Masters provided further evidence that last year's US Open runner-up was rediscovering his A-game.

Last week at Close House, the 2015 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational champion was looking formidable again.

Lowry carded a par or better at 68 of his 72 holes of the British Masters, dropping only one shot over the weekend, his rounds of 68, 66, 66 and 67 enough for seventh place. He topped the greens-in-regulation statistics and could be set for Dunhill domination if his putter warms up.

The forecast for a breezy week in Fife means Lowry should enjoy greater reward for his long-game control. And this is a tournament in which he is proven, with form figures of 3-6-19-18 from his last four Dunhill starts. The 30-year-old won the Irish Open on a links when still an amateur in 2009 and is always to be feared on this sort of terrain.

Rory McIlroy is all the rage at the top of the market after his runner-up effort at Close House, but that weekend birdiefest in the soft, calm conditions he loves was not enough to justify a sudden leap aboard the Rory train.

McIlroy is facing his first winless year since 2008, bringing a unique pressure to his final event of 2017, and he has been too inconsistent for 6-1 Dunhill quotes to be of interest.

Next best
Thorbjorn Olesen 35-1
The biggest potential party-pooper for the Irish this week could be Thorbjorn Olesen, who, like Lowry, has his sights set on a Ryder Cup debut in France next September. Olesen has developed greater consistency this season, becoming one of the best players on the European Tour at the age of 27, and he has won a title in each of the last three years.

Olesen won the Dunhill by two shots in 2015, having arrived in miserable form, and he was runner-up in the 2012 edition, beaten only by an inspired Branden Grace. All the Dane's best performances have come with a bit of breeze whipping his trousers.

From June onwards, Olesen has been swinging nicely and rolling his rock with confidence. A break in Ibiza preceded his 34th-place finish last time out in the Portugal Masters, a tournament where he is rarely a factor, so do not be put off by that humdrum effort. Thunderbear, as he is known, looks a serious Dunhill contender.

Other selections
Paul Dunne 33-1
Chris Wood 33-1
Ryan Fox 66-1
Can Dunne maintain his gallop and claim back-to-back victories? Unless the Close House celebrations got seriously out of hand and he is still suffering a hangover, there seems to be little reason why this ever improving youngster could not threaten immediately for further glory.

Dunne is a links natural who led the 2015 Open at St Andrews after three rounds when still an amateur. This short-game master has also played well at St Andrews in the Dunhill Links, finishing 19th and 25th in two spins, and has shown he can compete in a breeze.

His 61 on Sunday was pure class and if he applies himself properly again this week, Dunne could end up jousting with his buddy Lowry for a €676,133 cheque.

Chris Wood, despite a disappointing final round at Close House, also deserves respect. Wood, twice an Open contender, is a proven links exponent who has Dunhill form figures of 15-7-9-4 from his last four visits.

The giant Bristol boy was hitting his ball long last week – he had the same driving distance average as McIlroy – but was struggling for accuracy. The Dunhill courses will allow Wood to open his shoulders with more freedom.

The Dunhill is by far the more appealing of the two tournaments this week and much heavier staking is recommended for this event than the Safeway Open. Complete a strong, five-pronged Dunhill attack with Ryan Fox, the most dangerous looking maiden in the field.

Fox is a 30-year-old New Zealander who won twice on the Australasian Tour, then twice on the Challenge Tour. The most recent of the CT wins was by four shots at a wet and wild Northern Ireland Open.

Fox is powerful, effective in wind, not frightened by cold, and he excelled on links turf in the summer, finishing fourth in both the Irish Open and Scottish. The stocky Kiwi missed the cut in his only previous Dunhill (2015), but is a much better player two years later.

Others to note
Tommy Fleetwood
The Southport lad was the most difficult to scrape from the shortlist. He became a father on Saturday and is bursting with positive vibes heading into a tournament at which he has a fantastic record. Has only two competitive rounds under his belt since the USPGA, though, so probably rusty.

Joakim Lagergren
The Swede is extremely tempting at 90-1, given he has finished fourth in the previous two editions of this event. Could place again, but has appeared uncomfortable when chances to shed his maiden tag have presented themselves.

Benjamin Hebert
The tidy Frenchman, fourth in the 2015 Dunhill, is another maiden who could place at a fancy price (150-1) without threatening the world-class talent in the field for the title.

Matthew Fitzpatrick
The accurate Englishman finished 11th in the British Masters and is in great nick, but he has missed the cut in both previous Dunhill starts.

Jordan Smith
The Bath boy missed the cut at Close House, but should get back on track with a decent Dunhill. Looks a big price at 100-1.

Callum Shinkwin
The power-packed Hertfordshire lad, who almost won the Scottish Open on links terrain in July, is another tempting each-way option at 125-1.

Staking plan
S Lowry
2.5pts each-way 20-1 Ladbrokes
T Olesen
2pts each-way 35-1 bet365, BetBright
P Dunne
1.5pts each-way 33-1 BetBright, Ladbrokes
C Wood
1.5pts each-way 33-1 Betfred
R Fox
1pt each-way 66-1 Coral, Sky Bet

Rory McIlroy during a practice round at Kingsbarns this week

The lowdown

Courses St Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns, Fife, Scotland.

Prize money €4.26m (€676,133 to the winner).

Lengths - St Andrews 7,307 yards; Carnoustie 7,345 yards; Kingsbarns 7,227 yards Pars All 72 Field 168

Course records – 72 holes of Dunhill Links Championship 265 David Howell, Peter Uihlein (2013), Tyrrell Hatton (2016); 18 holes – St Andrews 62 Brian Davis (2003), Graeme McDowell (2004), Victor Dubuisson (2012), George Coetzee (2012), Paul Casey (2013), Tommy Fleetwood (2014), Louis Oosthuizen (2014), Tyrrell Hatton (2016); Carnoustie 64 Colin Montgomerie (1995 Scottish Open), Peter O'Malley (2007), Paul Lawrie (2007), Richard Green (2007 Open), Steve Stricker (2007 Open), Shane Lowry (2013), Alex Noren (2016); Kingsbarns 60 Branden Grace (2012), Peter Uihlein (2013).

Course winners taking part (St Andrews) Paul Lawrie, Padraig Harrington (twice), Lee Westwood, Stephen Gallacher, Robert Karlsson, Simon Dyson, Martin Kaymer, Branden Grace, David Howell, Oliver Wilson, Thorbjorn Olesen, Tyrrell Hatton.

When to bet By 9am Thursday.
Where to watch Live on Sky Sports from 1pm Thursday.

Last week – British Masters 1 P Dunne (66-1), 2 R McIlroy (8-1), 3 R Karlsson (300-1), T4 F Fritsch (300-1), D Lingmerth (50-1), G Storm (100-1), 7 S Lowry (28-1).

Course overview This Pro-Am features two rounds at St Andrews and one each at Carnoustie and Kingsbarns. The competitors will play a round at each of the three links before a cut is made and the leaders will then battle it out on Sunday at St Andrews.

The host course, with its generous fairways and a few par fours which can be reached off the tee, is easy if the breeze is light. But, as Rory McIlroy found to his cost in the 2010 Open, St Andrews can be much tougher in strong winds.

The par-four 17th Road Hole is the toughest assignment on the track. Carnoustie is the most difficult course – the long, demanding monster brought many players to their knees in the 1999 and 2007 Opens.

Carnoustie's closing four holes (three long par-fours and a 247-yard par-three) have destroyed many scorecards. Kingsbarns is the shortest venue and yielded the most low scores last year.

It is the only one with four par-fives, so big-hitters have an opportunity to make hay there. All three tracks are set up much easier than usual to give the amateurs a chance, so scoring is considerably lower in the Links Championship than the Open.

Zach Johnson won the latest Open at St Andrews last year.

Story of last year Tyrrell Hatton led his fellow Englishman Ross Fisher by three shots going into the final round, then cruised to a four-shot success, making his European Tour breakthrough.

Weather forecast Clear, with sunny spells, for all four days, but cold and breezy.

Type of player suited to challenge Those with banks of links experience from the British and Irish amateur scene, the Open and this event (which was first staged in 2001) will be best prepared. Links masters possess a range of shots to handle the quirky terrain.

A sound temperament is required to deal with the amateur element of this event, with rounds taking an age to complete.

A hot putter is typically required to keep pace with the lead in a low-scoring shootout.

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The forecast for a breezy week in Fife means Lowry should enjoy greater reward for his long-game control
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