Hoey majestic at Palais Royal
MICHAEL HOEY never does anything by halves, yet this gifted Ulsterman exceeded even his own penchant for the spectacular as he swept to a majestic three-stroke victory over Damien McGrane in the King Hassan II Trophy.
Ballymoney native Hoey (32) delivered a performance worthy of the world's most exclusive golf course, the Palais Royal in Agadir, whipping the golden, jewel-encrusted Moroccan dagger out of McGrane's grasp with imperious back-to-back rounds of 65.
This Shandon Park favourite is making a habit of whipping precious prizes from under the noses of fellow Irishmen.
Hoey swept past Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy in a grandstand finish to last October's Dunhill Links at St Andrews and his fourth European Tour victory was landed in equally impressive fashion yesterday as he overhauled his rugged Kells rival down the stretch.
Yesterday's E250,000 cheque propels Hoey into 14th place in the Race to Dubai standings and the mid-70s in the world rankings. Meanwhile, the quality of his third Tour win in 11 months suggests the 2001 Walker Cup-winner is capable of playing his way into the European Ryder Cup team in Chicago next September.
After opening with a 65 of his own on Thursday, McGrane led for the first three rounds, while Hoey rebounded brilliantly from a first round 74 to play his next 54 holes in a stunning 19-under, saying of his 67-65-65 finish "that's the best I've ever swung a golf club."
McGrane, who signed for a 70 after an intriguing nip-and-tuck final-round battle with Hoey, admitted he was "very disappointed" to finish three behind.
"Setting out at lunchtime, I really thought this was my tournament," he explained. "Yet I finished second by myself, which is a bonus, and, in fairness, Michael went out and won it.
"All credit to him, 17-under is one heck of an effort on this course," added McGrane, who then smiled and said: "If you're going to lose to anyone, isn't it great it's another Irishman."
McGrane (40) had to scramble for his playing credentials in 115th place in the 2011 European Order of Merit so the E166,660 he banked in second, his biggest cheque in 16 months, is a welcome return to form this season.
Yet the first prize was in McGrane's sights as he birdied the opening two holes of his final round to ease clear of joint-leader Matteo Manassero. The Italian teenager's bid for the victory he needed to earn his place in next week's Masters faltered as he bogeyed the first and then took a double at eight.
As Welshman Jamie Donaldson would prove with his course record 61, birdies were there for the taking in the palace gardens yesterday and Hoey, a Challenge Tour winner in Morocco in 2008, took best advantage. His precision and confidence from tee to green matched by his putting as Hoey played the first eight holes in five-under to ease one ahead of McGrane.
The Ulsterman had a little wobble after the turn, dropping a shot at 10 to allow his rival draw level once again and McGrane edged back in front on 15-under with birdie at 11 after a superlative tee shot to two feet at this testing par three.
Yet as Hoey sprinted home with birdies at 14, 16 and 17, exhaustion would take its toll on McGrane. Forced by Friday's lengthy weather delay to play the final 49-holes of his tournament in 36 hours on Saturday and Sunday, he flagged down the stretch. Though he'd played majestic golf on the Moroccan Royal Family's private golf course, Hoey insisted he'd benefited most of all in Agadir from the home cooking of his wife, Bev.
"We rented a villa and, since I'm no use in the kitchen, she did the cooking and that's been massive," explained Hoey. "We went to the supermarket to shop and everything felt normal."
Shane Lowry earned E17,888 in a tie for 17th place after his final round 68. The E5,550 Mark Murphy took for his share of 52nd following his closing 76 more than covered the E3,000 fee the Kerryman paid to become an affiliate member of the European Tour last week.