Irish Open 2015: Great Dane Soren Kjeldsen shows nerves of steel to get hands on Irish crown
He held his nerve, and only just, but Soren Kjeldsen is the new Irish Open champion.
The 40-year-old Dane came through a three-man play-off to clinch what is his fourth European Tour victory at Royal County Down yesterday evening.
His birdie four putt on the 18th rolled almost completely around the rim of the cup before dropping, but drop it did to the immense relief of Kjeldsen, who had seen the two-shot lead he had held at the start of the day's play evaporate in the space of just two holes yesterday.
It was his three-wood approach to the first play-off hole which sealed the victory. It left him a good 25 feet from the cup, but crucially he was on the green, while his opponents - England's Eddie Pepperell and Austrian Bernd Wiesberger - both missed their chance.
That was tough on Pepperell, who had put together arguably the day's best performance in extremely demanding conditions.
His two-under round of 69 made him the only player not to drop a shot yesterday and, in fact, it was only the second round in the entire tournament not to have included a bogey somewhere.
He had started the day a full seven shots behind leader Kjeldsen and really held it together over the tough closing holes to post a challenging clubhouse target of two under par.
Kjeldsen had ended Saturday's third round with back-to-back bogeys and he began yesterday's round in exactly the same fashion.
While most of the field were making the most of the relatively straightforward opening par five, he found trouble off the tee and ended up missing a ten-footer for his par.
Then, at the second, a poor chip left him 25 feet away and when he missed that, his playing partner Max Kieffer had an early share of the lead.
The German's challenge, though, petered out fairly quickly with a double-bogey six at the third and he dropped a couple more shots at the turn.
Kjeldsen steadied the ship and, sacrificing distance for accuracy off the tees, made pars on the next five holes to remain at five under and seemingly in control of the tournament.
But just as he had safely negotiated the tricky par-three seventh hole, trouble flared at the next. Kjeldsen over-clubbed with his approach and left the ball in a really tricky spot over the green. His chip didn't reach the top of the slope and the ball ran back down to his feet, which led to a double-bogey six.
Several really nasty squalls blew in over the course just as the leaders were reaching the turn and at that stage it looked as though any one of seven or eight men could take the title. It was just a question of who would make the fewest mistakes.
England's Tyrrell Hatton was one who managed to keep himself in the mix despite some incredibly wayward tee shots.
He has yet to win on tour and at times he has got himself into trouble by saying some things that he probably shouldn't, but the Royal County Down crowd really took to him yesterday and he is definitely one to look out for in the future.
His chip-in for a birdie on the ninth, which got him to three under, brought one of the biggest cheers of the day. But the poor driving eventually caught up with him and with three bogeys on the back nine, he ended up in a share of fourth on one under. That was good enough, though, to earn him a place at The Open at St Andrews in July.
Danny Willett's chip-in for eagle on the last took him to the clubhouse at level par which, with the leaders dropping shots on a regular basis, looked as though it might have a very good chance of winning.
The one realistic birdie chance of the back nine was at the par-five 12th hole and Kjeldsen did manage to take advantage, unlike most of his rivals, with a birdie four.
He made a very solid putt to par the 13th, but found more trouble at the 14th and the bogey there dropped him back to three under for the tournament, four over for the day.
With Pepperell in the clubhouse at two under and Wiesberger on the same score, Kjeldsen could not afford many more slip-ups, but again ran into trouble on the 17th.
For once his putting let him down as he made a very tentative approach putt from 50 feet and ended up three-putting for the bogey that would take him into a play-off.
Wiesberger dropped a shot with a bogey five on the difficult 15th, but picked up that shot again with a great approach to the short 16th to set up a birdie.
Kjeldsen put himself in range of the green at the par-five last, but missed the green to the right and ended up knocking his chip clean over.
But his up and down took him into the play-off and from there just one trip back down in front of the huge galleries on the 18th was necessary.