Throwing Stone in the Mix in Northern Ireland

The Challenge Tour heads to home shores this week with the Northern Ireland Open in Association with Sphere Global and Ulster Bank, to give it its full title. This will be the third year the vent has been held and it will once again be from Galgorm Castle in Ballymena. The first two winners were Daan Huizing and Joakim Lagergren last year. A UK start time and so it will start at 7.30am, on the 6th August.

The Course

Galgorm Castle is near Ballymena, 40 minutes north of Belfast. It's a heathland course set in the castle grounds with the River Maine and Braid River forming the south and west borders of the course. It's quite open with both trees and water lining the course, including both rivers. It has been extended a whole 3 yards this year and is 6,933 yards and a par 71, but could play a bit longer as the lovely British summer means the course has had plenty of water.
The previous winners of have been:
Year Player Score Players Under Par Winning Margin
The same winning score in each year, but in both cases the leader played the final round over par and let big leads slip. Whilst it played just under a shot over par for the field.

The Contenders

Although not the favourite, nor the top ranked player in the world here this week, the big name is Michael Hoey who plays host to the event. At 77th he is nearly 50 places higher than the next best in the Race to Dubai, and only Peter Lawrie (124th) is ranked inside the top 150 with him. Being host though doesn't seem to help as in both previous years he has missed the cut, breaking par just once, but only with a 70, an average round of 73.00 is 71st in the field of the 94 who have played here before. Arrives off a good showing at the Paul Lawrie Matchplay last week where he reached the quarter finals including a 7&6 win over Greg Havret. He was also 7th at the BMW International in Germany, with 45th at the Open de France, 77th in the Scottish Open & 63rd at the European Masters in between.
The current leader of the Challenge Tour rankings is Roope Kakko who took over following his win in Madeira last week, which also projected him on to the main tour as it was dual ranking and so that leaves Ricardo Gouveia as the top ranked player here, and also in the World at 161st, Hoey is 4th best at 267th. After a win in the Aegean Airlines Challenge in Germany and 2nd the following week in Slovakia there was the inevitable drop off in form in Madeira last week when he was 25th. Still that is his second worst finish of the year following 35th at the Najeti Open at St Omer a couple of weeks before his win, and he's had seven top ten's so far this year in eleven events, so form is still good. Last year was his first year on tour and he played ten events in total and this was his sixth, however he didn't start too well missing four of the previous five cuts and rounds of 75 & 76 left him 7 shots adrift here, and average round of 75.50 which is 87th best.
No player has made the top ten here in both years and so the best record here goes to the 2013 champion Daan Huizing, who gave me some worrying moments on the way to his victory. I had backed him and was sitting happy as he led by 6 going into the final round, but then shot a 74 which if memory serves me right included a chip in late on to force a playoff with Oliver Wilson. Thankfully he won that playoff and gave me the win. It means he leads the field with an average round of 67.75, but the 74 means he has 75% of rounds under par which is 3rd best. After bursting onto the scene with that win and again a couple of weeks later in the Ukraine he struggled on the main tour with a couple of 12th places to show and 12 from 26 missed cuts. Back on this tour and he hasn't been so successful missing 6 of his first 9 cuts, although he was 5th in Kenya & 9th in the Karnten Open in that time, and it did include a couple of main tours and a Sunshine Tour event. On a consistent run know with 39th, 43rd, 48th, 14th in Slovakia his best recent result, 24th in Le Vaudreuil and 42nd in Madeira last week.
A shot behind Huizing & Wilson in 2013 was James Heath & Jamie McLeary. McLeary actually matched Huizing with a pair of 66's and a 65, but his downfall was a 75 in round 2, whilst Heath also had a poor second round with a 71, shooting 67, 65 & a 69 to close. That leaves them with the 2nd best average round at 68.00 & also with 75% of rounds under par. McLeary has a win already this year winning in Belgium at the KPMG Trophy but followed that with missed cuts in St Omer & Scotland, then had a 4th in Slovakia, 14th in France at Le Vaudreuil and alongside Huizing in 42nd last week. Heath was better last week in 32nd, but gave those 10 places back at Le Vaudreuil in 24th, whilst before that he was on a consistent run starting with 4th at the Swiss Challenge, 12th in Belgium, 18th, 6th & 19th in Slovakia.
With the most consistent finishes in both years is Andrew McArthur who was 26th in 2013 & 23rd last year. He matched Huizing with an opening 65 in 2013, but slipped with 70, 72 & 74, whilst last year it was a fast finish 66 that moved him up after rounds of 69, 72 & 73. That means he averages 70.13 which is 20th best in the field and 50% (4/8) rounds under par. He arrives off a good performance last week finishing in 3rd position, his third top three finish after 2nd in Denmark and 3rd in the Czech Republic a couple of weeks later. Not so good in between with 43rd & 45th on the main tour, a missed cut in St Omer and 22nd in Scotland, missed the cut again in Scotland at the Scottish Open on the main tour, before 26th in the Fred Olsen Challenge de Espana a couple of weeks before Madeira. Results which make him 228th in the World and the second ranked in the field.
Two players have all rounds under par with Daniel Vancsik finishing 9th in 2013 and Brandon Stone who was 5th last year. He's the only player with all rounds in the 60's after three rounds of 69 and a 67 in the second round, giving him an average round of 68.50 which is 4th best in the field. He too had a good result last week and is in improving form after missed cuts at the Scottish & Aegean Airlines Challenges, 35th in Slovakia, 33rd in Le Vaudreuil and 7th last week in Madeira, when a final round 72 dropped him down.

My Selection

Between two for me this week, McArthur has two solid results here and has showed he can go low with rounds of 65 & 66, whilst Stone was super consistent last year with 3 rounds of 69 & a 67. Both went well last week but with Stone in improving form over the last few weeks then he gets the vote. Only worry would be his ability to cope under pressure as he made his name a couple of years ago at the BMW International Open when again he dropped back after a poor final round.