Darren Clarke’s taste of G-Mac factor
Ulster aces Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke pushed the trans-Atlantic ‘Dream Team' of Ian Poulter and Dustin Johnson all the way into the winner's circle yesterday as the $3m Shark Shootout came to a remarkable climax in Naples, Florida.
Poulter and Johnson finished on 30-under, two ahead of McDowell and Clarke in the final standings — yet the winners and their Northern Ireland playing companions both posted red-hot rounds of 59 in the scramble.
Johnson and Poulter split $750,000 between them, while the runners-up bring $235,000 each back to Portrush at the end of their competitive year.
This boosts Ryder Cup hero McDowell's on-course income to a whopping €5.5m in 2010, a season which saw him win the US Open, Welsh Open, Andalucia Masters and turn over Tiger Woods on his own patch at last Sunday week's Chevron World Challenge.
Incredibly, four teams broke the 60 ‘barrier' at Tiburon Golf Club yesterday.
David Duval and Davis Love III lifted themselves into a tie for fifth with their 59, while tournament host Greg Norman and his US partner Matt Kuchar also went around in 13-under for ninth place.
Spain’s Pablo Martin (24) became the first player since Padraig Harrington to successfully defend a title on the European Tour yesterday, showing true grit on Leopard Creek's final hole to win the Alfred Dunhill Championship.
Martin appeared to be coasting to victory in the first event on Europe's 2011 schedule as he surged five clear of his closest challenger, Anthony Michael, when the Sunshine Tour rookie ran up a double-bogey six at 11.
Yet Martin followed up an extremely untidy bogey at 14 with a brain-scrambling triple-bogey seven at 17 to leave himself just one stroke clear of Michael going to the daunting 541-yard closing par five.
In fairness to the man from Malaga, he somehow managed to compose himself on the walk to the 18th tee and hit a superb drive into mid-fairway before finding the heart of a green surrounded on three sides by water with a superb five-wood approach.
Martin got down in two for a birdie and a two-under-par 70, which left him two strokes ahead of Michael, but the huge sigh of relief he heaved when that final putt dropped told the true story of the final few holes of his third tournament victory on the European Tour.
Michael's chances of finishing in outright second place were scotched by a mix of bad luck and poor judgment at the last. After pulling his final tee shot left of the fairway, the Johannesburg native's ball came to rest under the boughs of a tree.
The obvious course was to lay up but Michael instead took on the shot to the green instead. He struck it beautifully, but the loft needed to clear another tall tree in front meant the 25-year-old's ball was destined to fall well short and into the water, denying him any chance of birdie.
A sweet up-and-down for a commendable par five and a final-round 73 left Michael tied second on nine-under with Danish Challenge Tour graduate, Thorbjorn.
Michael Hoey earned €8,100 in a tie for 30th on two-over after posting his third successive 72 yesterday, while Damien McGrane pocketed €5,400 in 43rd place after a closing 75 left him three shots behind the Belfast man.
Hoey, McGrane, Gareth Maybin and Paul McGinley bring down the curtain on 2010 at this week's South African Open in Durban.