The PGA and European Tours have a very good tradition of big-name players hosting big tournaments, raising a lot of money for charity at the same time as producing top-class events. That was the route taken by the Irish Open when Rory McIlroy took on hosting duties for this historic event from 2015. Things got even better for the revamped Irish Open when it became one of the first Rolex Series events in 2017, with a bigger prize fund helping to attract very strong fields.
Although McIlroy’s hosting ended for the 2019 edition, the Irish Open remains a very important event on the European Tour. It is a touring event that visits some of the very best golf courses on the island of Ireland and often produces some final-round drama.
|2020||Galgorm Castle||John Catlin|
|2019||Lahinch Golf Club||Jon Rahm|
|2018||Ballyliffin Golf Club||Russell Knox|
|2017||Portstewart Golf Club||Jon Rahm|
2020: John Catlin
Golf is an increasingly global game but the USA remains the sport’s dominant nation. Such is the depth in talent that many American golfers find their best route into the professional game is to leave home. That’s exactly what John Catlin did, competing on the All Thailand Golf Tour, the Asian Development Tour and the Asian Tour before heading to the European Tour on a long term basis. All that travelling and hard work really began to pay off in September 2020 when he won the Irish Open at Galgorm Castle just three weeks after his maiden European Tour victory at the Andalucía Masters.
Catlin’s previous experience of just how difficult it is to win on the European Tour stood him in good stead for a hugely entertaining conclusion to the 2020 Irish Open. The 29 year old began his round four shots off the lead but hauled himself into a winning position with an excellent round of 64. He was by no means the only player to get themselves into contention on Sunday though.
Jazz Janewattananond and Maverick Antcliff fought hard for a share of third place, their -7 being three shots behind the -10 reached by Catlin, but it was overnight leader Aaron Rai who came closest to stopping Catlin. The Englishman went for aggression on the final tee knowing that a birdie was required to win but he made a mistake and made a bogey which allowed Catlin to breathe a sigh of relief and claim a second win of the month.
2019: Jon Rahm
When Jon Rahm arrived for the 2017 Irish Open he was yet to win on the European Tour. By the time he arrived for the 2019 renewal he had added the DP World Tour Championship and Open de España to the title he won at Portstewart as well as three PGA Tour wins. Such was the level of confidence that Rahm felt about his game and its suitability to Lahinch Golf Club that he fully believed he could become a two-time Irish Open winner. That confidence proved very well placed as he fired in a remarkable final round of 62 to pip both Bernd Wiesberger and Andy Sullivan to victory by two shots.
Rahm proved that sometimes one spark is all that is needed to kick a great player into gear. He was going along nicely enough in his final round but a special eagle on the 12th hole set the tone for a world-class finish to his tournament which would ultimately prove too much for the competition to handle.
Speaking after the round, Rahm said that he had set himself a target of -15, believing that would be enough for him to win. That prediction would prove to be correct as the two players in second place – Andy Sullivan and Bernd Wiesberger – could only get to -14. Rahm, though, was good enough to give himself an extra cushion by reaching -16 to take the glory.
2018: Russell Knox
Holing a 40-foot putt for birdie is a great feeling for any golfer. Now imagine that 40-foot putt was on the first hole of a playoff on the European Tour to win the tournament and came after holing another 40-foot birdie putt on the same green to force your way into that playoff just minutes before. That was the level of elation felt by Russell Knox as he won the 2018 Irish Open at Ballyliffin Golf Club.
A second European Tour win looked a long way from Knox’s grasp at the start of the day. The Irish Open was very much Erik van Rooyen’s to lose but he somehow managed to throw away a four-shot lead. The South African will have much better days and his missteps opened the door for Knox and Ryan Fox. Knox’s score of 66 was two strokes better than Fox managed but were it not for either of those monster putts it would have been the big-hitting Kiwi who was celebrating the win.
This was the sort of thrilling finish that fans have almost come to expect at the Irish Open. The 27,000 fans who came from nearby in Donegal and much further afield for the final round certainly enjoyed the action served up to them but not quite as much as Knox who will remember this day, and those two putts, for the rest of his life.
2017: Jon Rahm
The R&A and USGA had been working hard on updated rules for golf to hopefully simplify and speed the game up when introduced in 2019. Issues will always crop up with the rules though, even at the highest level, just as they did during Jon Rahm’s win at the 2017 Irish Open.
The impressive young Spaniard was oblivious to the fact that rules officials were pouring over footage of the way he marked his ball on the sixth green until he was questioned walking down the 13th fairway. After giving his version of events, the decision was made not to penalise Rahm and while there was no suggestion of any deliberate wrongdoing, he admitted that the incident affected his play in the latter stages. He was able to hang on for a maiden European Tour win (and the big winnings available in these Rolex Series events) but said afterwards, "It really makes me feel bad that my first win on the European Tour is always going to have that little mark on it.”
In time, few will remember what happened on the sixth green and this will just go down as a huge six-shot win in the career of a player who was destined to win a whole load of tournaments.