Emo­tional McIl­roy con­jures up late magic to pip Knox to ti­tle

The Herald - Herald Sport - - GOLF, CRICKET - PHIL CASEY

AN emo­tional Rory McIl­roy pro­duced a sen­sa­tional fin­ish to snatch vic­tory from the jaws of de­feat and win the Dubai Duty Free Ir­ish Open for the first time at The K Club.

McIl­roy had seen his three-shot lead be­come a one-shot deficit with three holes to play as Scot­land’s Rus­sell Knox carded four birdies and an ea­gle in a fi­nal round in­ter­rupted twice by hail­storms and tor­ren­tial rain.

But the world No.3 then birdied the par-five 16th as Knox three-putted and, after lip­ping out for birdie on the 17th, fired a stun­ning ap­proach from 252 yards to within three feet of the hole on the 18th for a clos­ing ea­gle.

The re­sult­ing 69 meant McIl­roy fin­ished three shots clear of Knox and Wales’ Bradley Dredge to claim the first prize of £515,000, which he will do­nate to his own foun­da­tion which hosted the tour­na­ment for the sec­ond year.

Dredge surged through the field with a 66 to se­cure the big­gest pay-day of his ca­reer, with Knox re­turn­ing a 68.

“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.

“The ova­tion I got when the ball landed on the 16th green sent shiv­ers down my spine. 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.”

McIl­roy had missed the cut in his home event for the last three years, but com­pleted an er­ror-free 70 in the weather-de­layed third round yes­ter­day morn­ing to claim a three-shot lead over Masters cham­pion Danny Wil­lett.

And, although Wil­lett’s chal­lenge stalled in the fi­nal round with 13 straight pars be­fore he col­lapsed to a clos­ing 77, Knox en­sured McIl­roy would not have things all his own way.

Us­ing a driver bor­rowed from Swe­den’s David Ling­merth after crack­ing the face of his own club on Thurs­day, Knox missed birdie chances on the first two holes be­fore hol­ing from 20 feet for ea­gle on the fourth and sim­i­lar range for birdie on the next.

After a de­lay of 69 min­utes fol­low­ing the first del­uge, McIl­roy edged two shots clear with a birdie on 10, only to three-putt the 11th and then see Knox draw level with a birdie on the 14th be­fore play was halted again.

A birdie on the 15th took Knox into the lead only for McIl­roy to pro­duce a stun­ning ap­proach from 270 yards to set up a two-putt birdie on the 16th, while Knox found sand off the tee and three­p­utted for a costly bo­gey.

McIl­roy’s birdie putt from six feet on the 17th lipped out, but it did not mat­ter thanks to his ap­proach to the 18th which en­sured he could en­joy the walk to the green and take in the cheers.

“I played bril­liant, but Rory’s shots at the end? He de­serves to win,” said Knox.

PRIZE GUY: Rory McIl­roy proudly shows off the Ir­ish Open tro­phy at The K Club

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