Jun
2
2013
Mikk has a triple: Ilonen captures third title in Sweden
By Conor Nagle under European PGA Tour
Prince Daniel, Duke of Vastergotland, the husband of Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden presents Mikko Ilonen with the trophy  (Getty Images)

Check it out: Ilonen with Prince Daniel of Vastergotland, Sweden’s Crown Prince of Hipsterdom. (Getty Images)

Finland’s Mikko Ilonen held off challenges from home favourites Jonas Blixt and Alex Noren to capture his third European Tour title, and his first since 2007, at the Nordea Masters in Sweden earlier this afternoon.

The former British Amateur champion — who’s a solid follow on Twitter, by the way — began the day with a two-shot lead, made all the more precarious by benign conditions and a Bro Hof Slot layout softened by overnight rain.

Only birdies, it was clear from as early as yesterday, would carry the final afternoon. And the Finn, who has legitimate claim to being the most in-form player on the European Tour, duly delivered. Betraying no outward sign of anxiety, he capitalised on some stellar approach play to secure a three at the par-four second. Another followed at the third, when his short-iron approach from a fairway bunker came to rest a mere eight feet from the flag.

With the title’s destination beginning to look a foregone conclusion after the opening exchanges, it fell to the Finn’s nearest challengers — who could have been forgiven for anticipating a tighter, more anxious affair —  to make something happen. As it turned out, raw pressure and some occasionally muddled decision-making ensured results were mixed.

Of the chasing pack, Jonas Blixt  — the surprise winner of last year’s Frys.com Open  — made the most significant inroads into the Finn’s lead. Clad in neon blue shoes, he set three birdies and an eagle against a lone dropped shot over the opening 12 holes to claw his way into contention, but came undone at the par-5 13th when an ambitious second shot splashed to a halt in the water hazard guarding the front edge of the green. A seven resulted; the very definition of untimely. He’d go on to record a hat-trick of birdies late in the back nine, but it was good enough only for a finishing total of 18-under-par, three adrift of Ilonen, who, after making more productive use of the same hole to card his fourth birdie of the day, navigated the closing stretch in a serene succession of pars.

In stark contrast to Blixt, Alex Noren (72) courted little drama on the final day. After failing to build on some strong ball-striking over the opening holes, he stumbled to a back nine of 37 and tie for fourth place alongside a similarly muted Matteo Manassero (70), Thomas Bjorn (67) and invitee Rikard Karlberg (68). Big-hitting Austrian Bernd Wiesberger (66) carded a birdie on the last to finish alone in second place.

Ilonen will begin next week inside the world top 70 and in fifth place on the Race to Dubai ranking.

Conor Nagle