Rory McIlroy shows his class to win Irish Open at the K Club
IT was drama right to the finishing line in the €4 million Dubai Duty Free Irish Open Championship, hosted by the Rory Foundation at The K Club, as Rory McIlroy put in a picture perfect finish to snatch the title and the winner’s cheque of €666.660.
The Holywood hero proved his character by powering back when it looked as if Russell Knox might snatch the honours from under the nose of the tournament host, who had started the final round three shots ahead of the field.
US-based Knox had tied the championship with four holes to go and then slipped ahead by a shot at the next hole but McIlroy kept his head and cashed in big time on a couple of mistakes that Knox made, to take the honours with a thrilling birdie-par-eagle finish.
At the long 16th hole, Scottish-born Knox found sand off the tee, pitched out and three-putted for bogey. McIlroy birdied after hitting the green in two for a two-shot swing and the lead again.
That was the turning point and McIlroy finished with three shots to spare, as he had started the last round, at 12-under-par.
“The 16th was certainly the turning point,” insisted the champion.
“I knew that I had to do something. You pick your target, you make a good committed swing and, thankfully, it worked out for me. I didn’t anticipate Russell making a bogey there, so it was a huge two-shot swing at that stage.
“You don’t get many opportunities to win your home championship and I had just to go for it.”
He added: “In the past I haven’t done very well in the championship but I figured out a way to make it work for me this week. This championship was one thing I wanted to tick off my CV and, thankfully, I have done that now. That shot on 16 was exactly what I wanted.”
The crowds got what they wanted for a final fling as McIlroy was paired with US Master Danny Willett with Knox making up a three-ball.
Because of the horrendous stoppages on Saturday, a three-ball was used to speed up the final round as some players, including the new winner, had to finish their third round yesterday morning.
What wasn’t reckoned was the fade away of Willett, who didn’t make a birdie all day and dropped five shots between the 14th and 17th holes to finish with a 77 and end up in joint 23rd place.
McIlroy trimmed all the long holes, carding birdies at the fourth, 10th and 16th before finishing with a golden eagle at the last. He had two bogeys as he gave back the shots he gained at four and 10.
His finish was sublime as he fired a super five-wood second approach at the flag, leaving only a three-footer for the closing eagle, which he rolled in confidently.
“I don’t know if I can put it into words,” said McIlroy, who started the week annoyed at “negative spin” on his failure to win so far this season.
“I don’t really get emotional when I win but I was trying to hold back the tears on the 18th green, looking
up and seeing all my friends and family.
“I don’t get the chance to play in front of them very often so to play like that and to finish like that today, I will never forget it. I’d put winning your national open up there with winning a WGC, just below the majors.
“I was trying to stay as patient as I could but it’s quite hard when you have 30,000 people roaring you on. The ovation I got when the ball landed on the 16th green sent shivers down my spine.
“I’m excited. I kept telling anyone that would listen that I was close. Maybe those last three holes is the catalyst for another great summer with three majors and everything else we have to play for with the Olympics and the Ryder Cup.”
Bradley Dredge surged through the field with a 66 to secure the biggest pay-day of his career, with Knox returning a 68.