Luck of the Irish?

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Northern Ireland’s  Michael Hoey clinched his first major European title at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship last weekend having produced a composed final round of sixty-eight, with three birdies in the last four holes on the Old Course at St Andrews. The 32-year-old led the competition from start to finish, scoring below seventy in every round and eventually finishing twenty-two under par – two shots clear of countryman Rory McIlroy.

This victory added to the recent success of other Northern Irish golfers McIlroy, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell and also set a few Tour precedents. This marked the first time Northern Ireland has produced five winners in a season; McDowell’s eighteen-under-par score made it a one-two-three finish for Northern Ireland and marked another Tour record. The Alfred Dunhill Links is a popular tournament celebrating links golf and is played over three of the world’s most prestigious courses – Kingsbarns, Carnoustie and the Old Course.  In addition to the individual competition, a wide range of amateurs partner the professional players during the Tournament in a bid to win the team competition.  Celebrity amateurs this year included Tim Henman, Johan Cruyff, Chris Evans, Michael Douglas and Hugh Grant. The fine weather which graced the various Links on Thursday and Friday led to some very low scoring, with 2010 Open champion Louis Oosthuizen shooting  six-under-par to share the lead with Hoey. Hoey, who earlier this year won only his second European Tour event at the Madeira Islands Open, was in great form, holing a magnificent forty-foot putt for an eagle two on the 18th at St Andrews.

Elsewhere, fellow Northern Irish national Graeme McDowell finished just one off the lead, while crowd favourites Padraig Harrington and Colin Montgomerie ended the day on four under.Hoey continued his excellent performance into day two of the tournament, with a 66 at Kingsbarns to share the lead at the halfway point with Englishman Tommy Fleetwood. Fleetwood, a professional for just under a year, seemed to really take advantage of the fine weather, shooting a superlative nine-under-par round in the sun at Kingsbarns to take his tally to a joint-leading twelve-under.

At Carnoustie, Oosthuizen also continued to chase the lead, recapturing the same form which saw him triumph in the Open fourteen months ago with a round of 67. Scottish professional Marc Warren carded a solid round to finish the day tied fourth and last year’s winner Martin Kaymer was one shot further back at nine-under after two rounds. The third day of the tournament witnessed an Irish takeover of the leaderboard, with Hoey continuing to lead the pack.  Despite the unfavourable weather conditions Hoey managed to expertly manoeuvre the infamous Carnoustie Links with a superb round of 66 that included five birdies and an eagle.

This left him on top at eighteen-under, three shots ahead of Graeme McDowell and five ahead of other Irishmen Padraig Harrington and Rory Mcilroy.   Englishmen Luke Donald and Simon Dyson (the 2009 winner here) also impressed, as both shot seven-under to equal the Old course record set by McIlroy in the 2010 Open Championship. In the final day Hoey’s lead came under substantial pressure from countryman Rory McIlroy, leading to a dramatic finish on a foggy and damp Old Course.  McIlroy quickly closed the gap at the top of the leaderboard with a brilliant six-under-par front nine, which included pitching in for a stunning eagle on the third. However, he failed to take advantage of this dream start and increase the pressure on Hoey, who stormed to the title with three birdies in his last four holes after pinpoint approach shots at 15, 16 and 18.

Meanwhile, the Alfred Dunhill Links Team Championship was won by English pairing Nick Dougherty and BBC Radio DJ Chris Evans who scored an astonishing forty-under-par round to win by three strokes. Hoey and William Farish Jr. came second, while Joost Luiten and fourteen-year-old St Andrews schoolboy Andrew MacDougall finished in joint third place.

After his victory, a jubilant and emotional Hoey said:   “I came over to watch the Dunhill Cup in 1993, 1996, and 1997. I watched Phil Mickelson, John Daly, Nick Faldo, all of the guys. I just thought ‘Oh, the way they strike the ball, how good do they hit it, I would love to play here’. And now I’m playing here and winning the Alfred Dunhill Links as well. It doesn’t get much better.”   A stunned and delighted Chris Evans spoke of his admiration for the professionals participating in the tournament, reserving special mention for his own team-mate: “I couldn’t have wished for a better partner than Nick. He actually requested to play with me, which I really appreciated, and he is just a great bloke. I’m pleased we won for him and, despite not getting to the final day in the individual tournament, he still shot 20 birdies over the four days which just shows how well he played.” He then paid homage to the final day’s setting, adding, “Thanks to St Andrews, the best golf host town in the world.”The final day of the competition was a fitting end to a compelling week of golf for both fans and players and an especially significant one for Michael Hoey, for it has seen him climb to 14th in the Race to Dubai money list and from 271st to 98th golf’s world rankings.

For a full list of individual scores and a tournament leaderboard, go to http://www.alfreddunhilllinks.com and click on the Live Scoring link at the bottom of the page.

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