Thursday 22 March 2018

Hoey leads Ireland's assault on links title

Oliver Brown , at St Andrews

At times the Dunhill Links resembled the Northern Irish Open yesterday, confirming the province's extraordinary elevation to golf's top table.

Graeme McDowell recovered the touch of a US Open champion through his 67 at St Andrews, while Rory McIlroy's 66 ensured the presence of Holywood, Co Down, in a field studded with Michael Douglas, Hugh Grant, and other staples of Hollywood, California.

But it was a less celebrated Ulsterman, Ballymoney's Michael Hoey, who left his pursuers flailing after a consummate 66 at Carnoustie that lifted him to 18-under-par, three strokes clear.

In dank conditions in Scotland, Hoey's surge allowed him to eclipse even the remarkable exploits of Luke Donald and Simon Dyson, who equalled McIlroy's course record at St Andrews with 63s apiece. Hoey is unused to keeping such exalted company as Donald, the world No 1, even though they played on the same victorious Walker Cup side as amateurs in 2001.

Hoey at least grew up with the best though, having once enjoyed casual rounds alongside McIlroy at Shandon Park, on the outskirts of Belfast. But nothing in his nine-year European Tour career has prepared him for his task today. The 32-year-old has established a formidable position, three ahead of McDowell by virtue of three successive 66s.

Chasing him hard, though, is Donald, who underscored his talent for links golf with a nine-under round -- containing not a single dropped shot --despite the capricious wind blowing in off the Firth of Tay.

With the prize of winning money lists either side of the Atlantic in his sight, Donald plainly does not intend to lose momentum. His dominance in Europe's Race to Dubai is all but impregnable, given he holds a lead of £1.4m over McIlroy, and he has opened a gap of £44,000 over Webb Simpson on the PGA Tour by finishing joint third in the Tour Championship.

Dyson, who has streaked to prominence this season through his twin Tour triumphs in Ireland and Holland, emulated the feat. He disclosed that the secret to his rise lay in his eschewing the temptations of alcohol and excessive celebration. Understanding that he is to become a father in March, Dyson has made a pact with wife Lyndsey not to indulge, restricting himself to only one drink in the past 11 weeks.

Padraig Harrington, not to be outdone by his Ulster counterparts, also enjoyed a good day over the Old Course at St Andrews, carding a 64 to leave him tied fourth on 13 under and on course for a much-needed strong finish today. Shane Lowry carded a somewhat disappointing 72 at Carnoustie to leave him on seven under.

Sunday Indo Sport

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