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Daan shows Dutch of class

By Peter Hutcheon

The inaugural Northern Ireland Open served up a suitably nerve-wracking finish as Daan Huizing held off former Ryder Cup player Oliver Wilson in a play-off after blowing a six-shot lead at Galgorm Castle.

The swirling winds in Ballymena took their toll on the Dutchman, who had played magnificently over the first three days of the €170,000 (approx £144,908) European Challenge Tour event, as he dropped four shots on the front nine to allow the rest of the field back.

As the leaders reached the turn, Huizing found himself in a four way tie for the lead with Wilson, James Heath, and Jamie McLeary but he rediscovered the smooth rhythm that had served him so well for the first 54 holes to pick up birdies on the 12th and 14th holes to move to clear of the pack.

But the drama was nowhere near over as Wilson birdied the 17th to get within one of Huizing and set the clubhouse target of 13 under par, with McLeary and Heath finishing the day on 12 under.

A par five at the last would have been good enough to give Huizing the prize but he lost his drive in the thick rough and was forced to play his provisional ball from the middle of the fairway. Huizing's fourth shot was 40 yards short of the green leaving him needing an up and down to secure a play-off.

With the adrenaline pumping, and a crowd of over 8,000 people surrounding the 18th, he hit a poor pitch and left himself a 25 foot putt to keep his hopes alive.

"I suppose at that moment I proved how much I really wanted this victory," said Huizing. "I hit a really good putt and once I had made it I knew I still had a chance.

"This is fantastic. This is only my seventh start on the Challenge Tour and I've come close a few times," added Huizing, who had four top five finishes before picking up the €27,200 (approx £231,699) winner's cheque at Galgorm.

"It's the best course we've played on all year and the crowds and tournament set-up were amazing. I guess I won the hard way but at least it kept things exciting for the crowds."

A perfect drive at the first extra hole put the Dutchman in pole position as Wilson found the bunker off the tee.

But the Englishman played a fine second from the sand, leaving himself 50 yards short of the green in two, while Huizing found the putting surface in two with a fine three wood approach.

Wilson's chip stopped 10 feet short before Huizing rushed his eagle chance eight feet past the hole.

"I was pretty sure that he was going to make his putt so I kind of felt I had to make mine," he said.

"When he missed I just knew that was the moment for me and thankfully I managed to ignore the shakes and make a good stroke and get the ball on line."

Local amateur Dermot McElroy produced a brilliant closing round of 67 to shoot up into a tie for ninth to finish as joint leading Ulsterman with Johnny Caldwell, who signed off with a 70.

In typical laidback fashion, McElroy played down his performance.

"I couldn't get it going all week. It was my chipping that really kept me in it and my putting was very good today," said the 20-year-old, who plans to take a break before focusing on Tour School later this month.

Caldwell made the most of a rare outing on the Challenge Tour.

"I enjoyed it out there. There was no real secret, I just kept out of my own way and played steady," said the 29-year-old, who will play the remainder of the PGA EuroPro season rather than go to the first stage of Tour School.

Runner-up Wilson joined the glowing tributes from the players for the set-up at Galgorm which saw almost 21,000 people visiting the tournament during the week.

"This is the best Challenge Tour event I have played," he said. "Simple as that. From the moment you drive in the gates here at Galgorm you just get the sense that there is an event on.

"Everything you would expect from a Tour event is here, and the most important thing of all – good crowds. The facilities are first class. Then you get out onto the golf course and you find a real good test," Wilson added.

Derry's Michael McGeady, no stranger to the course, finished one under.

Despite a great start to the week, Gareth Shaw's effort ran out of steam.

The Galgorm Castle touring professional closed with a 75 to finish well off the pace on five over.

SCORES: 271 D Huizing (Ned) 65 66 66 74, O Wilson (Eng) 66 70 68 67.

272 J McLeary (Sco) 66 75 65 66, J Heath (Eng) 67 71 65 69.

273 B Ritthammer (Ger) 64 71 68 70.

275 A Johnston (Eng) 66 73 69 67, J Dantorp (Swe) 65 69 69 72.

276 M Armitage (Eng) 70 65 71 70.

278 D Stewart (Sco) 70 66 72 70, M Ford (Eng) 71 69 68 70, J Caldwell (Nir) 68 69 71 70, N Lemke (Swe) 70 69 67 72, J Carlsson (Swe) 68 69 72 69, D Vancsik (Arg) 69 70 69 70, T Pilkadaris (Aus) 66 71 72 69, D McElroy (am) (Nir) 67 70 74 67

279 R Kakko (Fin) 70 70 69 70, M Murphy (Irl) 72 69 69 69, M Crespi (Ita) 67 69 72 71, G Houston (Wal) 67 69 72 71,

280 J Barnes (Eng) 68 73 68 71, R McGowan (Eng) 65 69 76 70, T Norret (Den) 66 75 68 71, B Hebert (Fra) 67 69 75 69, T Hatton (Eng) 67 72 70 71.

281 J Guerrier (Fra) 68 70 71 72, P Widegren (Swe) 67 72 68 74, A McArthur (Sco) 65 70 72 74, R Steiner (Aut) 71 70 72 68, G Murray (Sco) 67 72 73 69, L Goddard (Eng) 69 71 69 72.

282 J Mikkelsen (Nor) 69 69 71 73, C Russo (Fra) 67 71 73 71.

283 M Glauert (Ger) 70 69 70 74, S Walker (Eng) 71 70 64 78, N Ravano (Ita) 71 70 70 72, B An (Kor) 68 71 73 71, J Ruth (Eng) 64 71 75 73, M McGeady (Irl) 65 72 74 72.

284 F Calmels (Fra) 69 71 72 72, R McGee (Irl) 70 70 71 73, S Tiley (Eng) 70 71 72 71.

285 D Im (USA) 67 69 76 73, N Kearney (Irl) 69 71 73 72, E Dubois (Fra) 72 69 71 73, D Griffiths (Eng) 68 73 73 71.

286 P Archer (Eng) 69 72 74 71, S Kim (Kor) 69 71 72 74, J Senior (Eng) 68 73 71 74.

287 D Perrier (Fra) 68 70 74 75, P Dwyer (Eng) 70 71 75 71, V Riu (Fra) 70 70 73 74.

288 G Stal (Fra) 68 73 69 78, A Bernadet (Fra) 71 70 70 77, N Dougherty (Eng) 66 73 73 76, H Joannes (Bel) 71 68 73 76.

289 N O'Briain (Irl) 67 70 72 80, G Shaw (Nir) 68 72 74 75, J Garcia Pinto (Esp) 70 71 72 76.

290 H Porteous (RSA) 68 70 72 80.

291 B Parker (Eng) 68 71 71 81.

293 J Lima (Por) 70 70 74 79.

295 R Whitson (am) (Nir) 71 69 72 83.

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