Guess which player from Northern Ireland won the Dunhill Links Championship? Rory McIlroy? Nope, try again. Graeme McDowell? Wrong again. Then who? Michael Hoey (pronounced Who-eey) held off McIlroy by two shots despite the 22-year-old’s brilliant early run. McDowell followed his fellow countrymen with a tie for third.
Pretty impressive for three guys from a rather small country to finish 1-2-3, not to mention the recent success of Ulstermen in world golf.
McIlroy started the day five shots off the lead, but came out firing at St. Andrews, shooting six-under on the first nine. He added another birdie on the 11th to take a one-shot lead over Hoey, but then the U.S. Open champ lost some of that magic.
McIlroy was just off the green on the reachable-in-two par-5 14th, where he hit a poor pitch and didn’t convert for birdie. He missed another opportunity on the following hole, the par-4 15th, when he stuck his approach and missed about a ten-footer for birdie. He had to settle for seven pars in the final seven holes after seven birdies in the first eleven.
Still, a good effort by Rory, who was three-over after the first 11 holes of the tournament (he finished 20-under), to a final-round 65.
Meanwhile, Hoey closed out in style, carding three birdies in the closing four holes.
“I knew I had to hit the three best shots of my career over the last three holes and I did,” Hoey told reporters.
McDowell called Hoey a “world-class player” and McIlroy described him as a “supreme talent” that “showed what he’s capable of (on Sunday).”
The victory was easily the ’01 British Amateur champion’s biggest of his career.
“It’s taken a long time, but in a weird way you enjoy it more, because (of) struggling (and enduring) six years of Qualifying School,” said Hoey, “it’s not nice, when you’re running out of money and you’re confused about your golf swing and you’re away every week traveling, no family life.
“So, there’s points there where you think, do I want to do this; do I want to continue with this. But I love the game…”
And it finally paid off. Hoey earned an $800,000 check for this week’s efforts.
The world No. 3 experienced success rather quickly, but it’s somewhat surprising that someone of his talent still only has three wins. McIlroy was obviously disappointed with how he finished, but took the look-on-the-bright-side approach.
“It would have been great to get another win this year,” said Rory after his round. “That’s what I’m really pushing for. I’m going to come up one short it looks like. It’s disappointing but I’ve got a few more tournaments left this year to try to get a win or two.”
He also admitted it stung to come up just short.
“Especially giving myself such a great chance coming down the last,” said McIlroy. “If I had just nicked one or two over the last seven. But I played good golf coming in and that’s all you can really do. I’m disappointed and I’m sure it will be a long flight to Korea in the morning thinking about it.”
As a consolation, Rory does gain a few world ranking points to inch a bit closer to catching world No. 1 Luke Donald, who ended his streak of holes without a three-putt at 449 in the first round.
“(Finishing second) gets me a little closer to Luke and gives me a few more world ranking points but the end of the day, I just want to win,” said McIlory.
(AP Photo/David Cheskin/PA Wire)