Rub of the green seals it for Sophie
SOPHIE Gustafson from Sweden became a six-time winner in Ireland when she captured the AIB Ladies Irish Open title at sun-splashed Killeen Castle yesterday.
Gustafson made history when claiming her fourth Ladies Irish Open victory, which, added to her win in Northern Ireland in 2003 and a team success in the World Cup of Golf at Adare Manor 10 years ago, ought to make her an honorary Irishwoman!
Ireland's best finisher was Tour pro Rebecca Coakley, whose 69 left her on four-under-par 212 for joint 17th place.
Coakley's gutsy finish, with three birdies on the last three holes, was highly impressive and earned her a cheque for €6,900.
Lisa Maguire (72) on two-over 218 won the prize for leading amateur.
The other two amateurs, and only other Irish players to make the cut, Danielle McVeigh (72) and Leona Maguire (76) finished on three-over 219 and four-over 220 respectively.
Considering the Maguire twins are only 15, this was a significant achievement. They've now played in three European Tour tournaments in Ireland and this was the first cut they've made.
Danielle McVeigh, the 21-year-old native of Co Down, also took much heart from her display. She will finish her business and management degree in Maynooth next year before considering a move into the paid ranks.
As for champion Gustafson, well you could say the luck of the Irish rubbed off on the 36-year-old, seven-time Solheim Cup player on the final hole.
The tournament looked set for a play-off with overnight leader In Kyung Kim of Korea and Norway's Marianne Skarpnord tied on 11-under par along with Gustafson.
Skarpnord and Gustafson were playing in the second-last group, with Kim in the final three-ball.
And then came the break which swung it for Gustafson.
Her drive off the 18th skewed off-course and came within a foot of the heavy rough. If her ball had landed in the high grass, she was done for, but presented with the opportunity, the Swede finished the tournament in fine style.
First, she smacked in a terrific wedge shot from 130 yards right over the flag, and though she left herself a tricky seven-foot putt down the slope, her touch proved exquisite.
The ball rolled into the hole to a tremendous roar from the big gallery around the 18th.
Skarpnord could only par the hole. Kim, in the last group, knew she needed a birdie to force a play-off, but once her 25-foot putt rolled past the cup, the tournament was over.
Final-day crowds of 15,000 roamed all over this magnificent parkland layout and they had plenty of good golf to enjoy. Gustafson's 66 was a great winning score for her 204 total and first prize of €75,000.
"I love Ireland because of the people. They're all very friendly and easy going and they've always been very supportive of me," she said. "Being able to make that putt was fantastic because I've been struggling with my putting."
Skarpnord shot 69 and In Kyung Kim 70 for their joint second place on 205. England's Melissa Reid lobbed in a 66 for ten-under 206 and fourth place on her own.
Best scores of the day were the 64s of Katherine Hull of Australia, last week's runner-up in the British Women's Open, who was fifth, and Veronica Zorzi (Italy), who finished joint eighth.
Coakley goes forward from Killeen Castle with her confidence enhanced.
"I'm delighted. It was nice to finish with the three birdies to give me 69. Overall this tournament has been fantastic. I think there has been a better atmosphere here this weekend than there was at the British (Women's Open) last week.
"It's incredible the amount of people that have come out and supported. I think it's a great testament to Irish people," she said.
Lisa and Leona Maguire have no time to rest, as they are playing today in the British Girls championship at Royal Belfast. Lisa commented: "It was good out there. It's a lot different to what we play every week. Overall a good experience, lots of fun anyway."
Her sister Leona said: "The whole week's been a good experience. Just a pity I didn't finish it off a bit better today."
Danielle McVeigh had her coach and Grange GC professional David Kearney on the bag and they worked well together. "A brilliant experience. I learned a lot this week. My game's come on a lot since last year. I'm very happy with that," she said.