Sport Golf

Sunday 26 February 2017

Hoey shines bright among North stars

Bernie McGuire, at ST Andrews

Michael Hoey sits on the Swilken Bridge at St Andrews after his victory in the Dunhill Links Championship yesterday
Michael Hoey sits on the Swilken Bridge at St Andrews after his victory in the Dunhill Links Championship yesterday

Organisers will have to resist the urge to move the Alfred Dunhill Championship to three links gems in Northern Ireland -- despite Michael Hoey, Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell creating history when finishing first, second and tied third in the event in Scotland yesterday.

Hoey gallantly withstood the combined final round assault of the US Open winning duo of McIlroy and McDowell to record a four-under-par 68 on the famed Old Course and win by two strokes with a 22-under par tally.

Hoey, ranked way down at 241st in the world, birdied three of the last four holes for a 68 to overhaul McIlroy, the world No 3, to collect €606,000, easily the biggest cheque of his career.

The 2001 British Amateur champion was always been tipped for big things, but it has taken until now for him, aged 32, to fulfil his potential with a 22-under total.

"It's an incredible feeling to win at such a special place," said Hoey, who already had two minor European Tour titles to his name.

"I didn't get down on myself and just kept on believing.

"That's dream stuff, really, winning the British Amateur and now to win here at St Andrews," he said.

"I came over here watching the Dunhill Cup in 1993, 1996 and 1997 and watching Mickelson, John Daly, Faldo, Feherty, and all the guys.

"I just thought the way they struck the ball was so good, and I thought I would love to play here. Now I am playing here and winning the Dunhill. If you're a golf nut like me, it doesn't get much better."

And while some doubted whether Hoey had the mettle to win a prestige event such as this, he played what he described as two of the best shots of his career -- a seven-iron into to 16 for birdie and then another seven-iron into the infamous 'Road Hole' 17th for par -- before a delightful 'bump-and-run' shot to four feet for birdie at 18.

The victory has lifted Hoey from 83rd to 15th on the Race to Dubai money list. It also ensures him a place in next month's WGC-HSBC Champions event as well as next year's WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

In contrast to Hoey's demeanour, McIlroy was bitterly disappointed. The world No 3 began the last day five strokes behind Hoey and ignited efforts to win for a second time this year when he birdied the second and then holed his second shot for eagle at the third, before joining Hoey and McDowell in a share of the lead with a birdie at the seventh.

However, McIlroy reached the high- water mark of his challenge with a birdie at the 11th before ending with seven straight pars.

He now embarks on a long flight to this week's Korea Open, pondering a sixth second-place finish in Europe and a second this season.

"I'm very disappointed as it would have been great to get another win this year as that's what I am really pushing for," said McIlroy.

"It's great to see Michael win, but it's tough for me. I would have liked to win."

McDowell played the final round alongside Hoey, but struggled when playing the closing dozen holes in level-par for a round of 69 to be tied with Scotland's George Murray (67) on 18-under.

eighth

Padraig Harrington putted through the 'Valley of Sin' for a final-hole birdie to secure eighth place on 16-under after a 69 yesterday.

It's Harrington's best finish in Europe in a year and also equals his best this year at the Shell Houston Open.

Harrington's new swing has also arrested his slide down the World rankings and he will move from 84th and into the low 70s when the rankings are adjusted this morning.

"The good thing now is I am more worried about the finer details of my swing rather than the bigger details," he said.

Harrington's effort has also seen him jump 16 places to 71st on the Race to Dubai money list. Peter Lawrie (70) and Shane Lowry (71) shared 45th place at eight-under par, with both players moving up one spot on the money list, Lawrie to 59th and Lowry to 61st.

Meanwhile, in the concurrent pro-am event, DJ Chris Evans was victorious.

His professional partner will now become the subject of a quiz question. "Which player won his biggest cheque of the year after missing the cut?" Step forward Nick Dougherty, who earned €37,000, despite not making the top 60 and ties who survived the chop.

Dougherty, a past winner of the main Dunhill Links, has only made one cut all year and, who knows, this success, however irrelevant, may well give him new impetus.

Irish Independent

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