Northern Irishman Michael Hoey held off compatriot and world No. 3 Rory McIlroy to claim the Dunhill Links Championship title on Sunday.
Three birdies in the last four holes at the home of golf for a closing 68 and a 22-under-par total of 266 earned Hoey a two-shot victory over the US Open champion, with Graeme McDowell completing a Northern Irish one two three.
“I knew I had to hit the three best shots of my career over the last three holes and I did,” a delighted Hoey told reporters.
Hoey needed a battling comeback as McIlroy turned on the sort of display that won him the US Open at Congressional in June, producing a spectacular final round 65.
McIlroy began the day five strokes adrift of Hoey, but his first nine holes to six-under 30, including an eagle-two with a 90 yard pitch-in on the third, took him past the overnight leader.
Hoey trailed McIlroy right up to the 15th, due to missed birdie putts of four and three feet on the 11th and 14th, but the lesser-known Ulsterman refused to bow.
When Hoey speared in a stunning approach to less than a foot on the 16th, he moved back to the top of the leaderboard and a birdie on the last extended his victory margin.
It was by far the 2001 British Amateur champion’s best success of three European Tour titles, worth US$800,000, as the 32-year-old at last realized his potential after many years in the doldrums, including six visits to qualifying school.
“There have been points when I have asked myself: ‘Do I want to continue because it’s not nice when you’re running out of money?’” Hoey said. “This has now opened doors to tournaments like world golf championships, events I’d only watched on TV.”
McDowell, last year’s US Open champion, closed with a 69 to finish four strokes behind Hoey alongside Scot George Murray. It was the first time Northern Ireland has enjoyed a one-two-three finish on the European Tour.
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