The action on the European Tour really hots up over the next couple of weeks and it all gets going with the Irish Open this week. 

There are plenty of strong contenders at Mount Juliet, but there is one who might just be head and shoulders above the rest.

Here’s our preview ahead of Thursday’s opening salvo.

Rory should prove tough to beat

It might not be the most original selection, but Rory McIlroy looks to hold outstanding claims of winning a second Irish Open title at 9/2. That might appear a very short price given the likes of Shane Lowry, Tommy Fleetwood and Martin Kaymer are in the field, but everything points to Rory going very close at Mount Juliet – a Jack Nicklaus design which, although in Ireland, resembles the American courses he loves to play. Heavily bunkered as well as featuring plenty of water, the immaculately conditioned course should play to Rory’s strengths and given he’s showing more and more of his old self, he’ll be very hopeful of winning this again.

He produced his best tee-to-green performance since 2019 when seventh at the U.S. Open last time and to give that some context, he won that event – the WGC-HSBC Champions in China. Granted, the putter didn’t behave itself at Torrey Pines but if he can continue to give himself plenty of chances, the putts will surely begin to drop.

Viktor Hovland, Tyrrell Hatton, Paul Casey and Dustin Johnson have already shown that the cream tends to rise to the top when PGA Tour regulars head over to Europe and Rory could easily follow suit. Rain is forecast and if that does develop it will be music to McIlroy’s ears as he thrives in softer and hence easier conditions. He got the monkey off his back by winning earlier this season and what better way to warm up for the Open in a couple of weeks by winning this?

Kokrak could become three-time winner this season

 If anyone had said that Jason Kokrak was the man who would become the first three-time winner on the PGA Tour this season, plenty would have laughed. However, at this week’s Rocket Mortgage Classic, he looks to hold solid claims of doing just that.

Although there have only been two playings of this tournament, it’s pretty clear that two facets of the game stack up well – putting and driving distance. In 2019, five of the top-10 players ranked inside the top-10 for Strokes Gained: Putting, while last year four of the top-seven ranked inside the top-11. Driving distance was less important in 2019, but last year the top-two – Bryson DeChambeau and Matthew Wolf – ranked first and fifth in that category. In short, you need someone who gets it out there and putts really, and that points to Kokrak perfectly.

The American ranks 23rd in driving distance this season, averaging over 307 yards per drive, while his putting, which has improved 10-fold in recent times, is the second best on tour. The winning score in the only two renewals has been 25 and 23 under par, so it’s likely going to turn into a bit of a putting contest and if Kokrak continues roll the rock as he has done so far this season, he looks a very likely player at 28/1.

Check out all the latest golf betting odds at William Hill